5 Ridiculous Lies That Fooled The Whole World

P.T. Barnum would be proud.
5 Ridiculous Lies That Fooled The Whole World

Being a con artist doesn't actually require exceptional intelligence. It just requires chutzpah that borders on neurosis. You see, because most people in the world are trusting souls, it often doesn't even occur to them that somebody's outrageous statement might be a lie. Con artists build their whole careers around good-hearted people saying to themselves, "But who would lie about that?"

Well, people like this, that's who ...

Joyce Hatto Releases 100 Albums Recorded by Other People

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This is one of those underdog stories that seem destined to get turned into an Academy Award-winning film (starring, say, Julia Roberts). Joyce Hatto had been a concert pianist for years, but was never able to rise above her largely mediocre reviews ... until she was finally forced to retire after being diagnosed with cancer. Then, in the face of tragedy, Joyce Hatto blossomed into the outstanding classical musician she'd always wanted to be.

5 Ridiculous Lies That Fooled The Whole World

Hatto, center, just musicing the shit out of that piano.

From then until her death in 2006, she hit the studio like Tupac, recording a daunting amount that resulted in over 100 CDs of piano music, showing a shocking range of style. The critics raved, lauding her incredible versatility. She was heralded as "the greatest living pianist that almost no one has ever heard of," a title we suppose is immediately nullified by the word "heralded."

The Con:

A classical-music aficionado named Brian Ventura popped one of Hatto's CDs into iTunes, which then obligingly informed him that he'd actually bought a CD of the relatively unknown Laszlo Simon. Stunned by what seemed to be the most random mix-up of all time, he sent a note to a music reviewer named Jed Distler. Distler and some colleagues did some digging and discovered that Joyce Hatto had played on virtually none of the CDs attributed to her.

LEOPOLD GODOWSKY The Complete Studies alter the Chopin Studles JOYCE HATTO. piano A CD
Pristine Classical

"She was in the same room as the musicians. That counts, right?"

Her "performances" were cobbled together from the work of at least 91 other pianists to create a Super-Skrull of musical talent. In fact, of Hatto's hundred-plus CD catalog, only one has been confirmed as authentically hers. The rest are blatant, crudely manipulated forgeries created by Hatto and her husband. They even invented an orchestra to credit in the fraudulent recordings, led by a Holocaust-survivor conductor who never existed.

Hatto's husband, William Barrington-Coupe, eventually admitted to the forgeries, conceding that he did take bits from other pianists to cover unwanted sounds on the recording. But since many tracks are almost completely identical to other pieces, it seems like the primary "unwanted sounds" in question were the sounds of Hatto actually playing.

Hardy Rodenstock Makes Millions Selling Fake Wine to Connoisseurs

5 Ridiculous Lies That Fooled The Whole World

In 1985, American businessman Bill Koch dropped $500,000 on four bottles of wine -- 1787 Chateau Lafit that supposedly belonged to wine nut Thomas Jefferson, a claim evidenced by the engraving of the initials "T.J." on the bottom of the bottle. (SIDE NOTE: If you are so worried about people stealing your alcohol that you etch your initials onto every bottle, you are probably an alcoholic.)

5 Ridiculous Lies That Fooled The Whole World
The Drinks Business

"Touch that bottle and I swear to non-magical philosopher Jesus I'll cut you."

Anyway, the seller of the bottle was international wine-peddling superstar Hardy Rodenstock. Rodenstock was a former musical manager and professor who gained a reputation for holding ridiculous wine-tasting orgies featuring priceless wines that no one else could ever conceive of, let alone purchase. People would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on rare wines from Rodenstock that probably tasted like cat piss to everyone but true wine fanatics.

The Con:

As it turns out, cat piss might have been the actual content of the bottles Bill Koch had purchased. After years of speculation that the Jefferson wines were fake, Koch embarked on a multimillion dollar manhunt, accusing Rodenstock of being a fraud. And he had good reason to.

The engravings of Jefferson's initials on the bottoms of the bottles were apparently made using a dental drill in a counterfeiting studio where wine was mixed and rebottled (no indication is given as to whether any cats were present).

5 Ridiculous Lies That Fooled The Whole World

"I actually prefer to use my own urine. It's more authentic that way."

Hell, Rodenstock himself was a forgery -- he was a former train engineer named Meinhard Goerke who had never been a professor and had managed only a single shitty German band in his entire life.

So how did he fool so many people? One reason was that the claims he made about his wines were so outlandish, no one could ever possibly prove him wrong -- how the hell would anyone know what 250-year-old wine was supposed to taste like?

5 Ridiculous Lies That Fooled The Whole World

"I smell soiled diapers and pig's feet. This is either terrible wine or decent kombucha."

Oh, and there was this: In order to sneak these substandard wines past his guests, he got them so hammered first that they couldn't tell if they were drinking a 1792 Riesling or a 2012 glass of toilet water. See, the most brilliant plans are the ones that seem obvious after the fact.

Turning a Fake Reality Show into a Drug Empire

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By now everyone assumes that reality shows are "fake," in the sense that they use creative editing and some staged scenes to make their "reality" more interesting than it would be if they just let a bunch of spoiled people screech at each other for half an hour. But the scam that was pulled off by the P.I. Moms took it to a whole new level.

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Unbelievably, Dr. Phil is the most credible person in this picture.

You might not have heard of it, but P.I. Moms became a minor pop culture phenomenon in 2010 when it was proposed as a reality show on Lifetime, a network primarily known for showing movies like Sleeping With the Enemy (and we mean movies exactly like it). The show would focus on middle class suburban mothers who, instead of the usual mom stuff, picked up work as licensed private investigators. They'd track witnesses, spy on suspicious individuals, gain intel on narcotics rings and trick pedophiles into chatting with them on the Internet.

The whole thing was the brainchild of Chris Butler, a former SWAT officer who decided to start Bosleying around soccer moms because he'd rather not get shot himself. Lifetime got word of his exploits and offered him fat basic cable dollars to film the P.I. Moms for a reality show. So what's the problem?

5 Ridiculous Lies That Fooled The Whole World

Aside from the fact that these women are in no way dressed for surveillance.

The Con:

A journalist named Peter Crooks went for a ride-along with Butler and his P.I. Moms to see them in action, but was suspicious pretty much from the start. He had been contacted to do the ride-along by Butler himself, who first tried to persuade Crooks by bringing him in on a "cheating-husband sting," which actually turned out to be a "cheating-husband entrapment." When Crooks said he wasn't interested in tricking people, and would be more interested to do a story on Butler and his moms if they blew the lid off an affair that was already in progress, Butler called him back the next day with a case he'd just been offered that happened to fit Crooks' criteria perfectly.

5 Ridiculous Lies That Fooled The Whole World

"And the stakeout location fits my most important criteria. It's close to a Taco Bell."

The "sting" involved trailing a guy and his mystery date all over Napa Valley, spying on them over a lunch that Crooks thought felt strangely scripted -- virtually every single sentence between the two involved an oblique reference to sex, as if they wanted it to be perfectly obvious to any eavesdropping mothers and/or journalists that they were going to be having some sex later. Crooks and the P.I.s eventually tracked the suspected cheater to a Holiday Inn, where they stole his car, evidently confusing "inconspicuous" with every single word in the English language that means the exact opposite.

This seemed fake as hell to Crooks, and shortly after that he received an email from an anonymous source confirming his suspicions: Not only was everyone involved in the "sting" an actor on Butler's payroll, but every single media piece the P.I. Moms had been featured in was scripted. The source turned out to be an actor named Carl Marino, who had worked on Crooks' ride-along as one of the investigators in Butler's employ.

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The moral of the story? Never trust a man with a leather jacket and half a goatee.

But here's the best part: Marino also revealed that Butler was reselling drugs confiscated from busts done by a narcotics task force he had contact with. This was the same task force that helped the Moms entrap a supposedly drug-dealing kid using the totally plausible promise of chicken, bowling and group sex with lingerie models.

Eventually, Crooks got Marino in touch with some less corrupt officials, who used him in a legitimate drug sting (one that involved much less sexy dialogue and car theft) that landed Butler and his partner at the narcotics task force in federal prison. Needless to say, Lifetime canceled the show, although it seems to us like they killed it right when it was getting good.

Lin Chunping Makes Up a Bank and Fools China

5 Ridiculous Lies That Fooled The Whole World

In 2010, Lin Chunping became a financial celebrity, sort of like a younger, Chinese Warren Buffett. Somehow, even though Lin had jack shit in the way of banking qualifications, he had managed to negotiate the rights to a bankrupt American bank -- the Delaware-based Atlantic Bank, which had gone under in 2008. He renamed it the totally legit-sounding USA New HSBC Federation Consortium Inc., presumably hollowing out the base of an undersea volcano for the home office.

5 Ridiculous Lies That Fooled The Whole World

"The laser crocodiles ran into production issues, but we finished the acid pit well ahead of schedule."

Lin now had $40 million in deposits lined up, and as a result of his success, he landed a cushy position on a Chinese government advisory board. Meanwhile, the notoriously censored state-run media in China declared his business skills to be "legendary."

Well, that's one way to put it.

Heb. Reem, Unicornis. Eenboorn,

Lin Chunping, seen here frolicking in a mystic glen.

The Con:

The problem with becoming a media sensation is that sometimes the news is read by people who actually know things. In Lin's case, journalists familiar with American banking took the wild step of actually double-checking his claims. It's not just that he was exaggerating his success with the Atlantic Bank in Delaware, it's that there was no such bank.

Nor was there any HSBC-licensed bank in Delaware (by then they weren't entirely convinced that Delaware was even a place).

Lin admitted that he'd made "exaggerations" to gain social status, which makes us wonder if he wasn't just telling all of this to a cute girl at a party when some government official overheard and said "You're hired!" The truth can't be much stupider, since either way it appears that in China, if you use strong enough words and enough exclamation points, no one will double-check a thing on your resume.

5 Ridiculous Lies That Fooled The Whole World

Also, for Chinese police, the week is apparently one long casual Friday.

Andrew Wakefield Screws the MMR Vaccine

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The MMR vaccine is an immunization shot you probably got as a baby that is supposed to prevent the measles and other diseases. These days, quite a few parents refuse the shot, because they heard somewhere that the vaccine somehow causes autism. They may have heard it from Jenny McCarthy or some other actor, but the whole thing goes back to a shady scientist named Andrew Wakefield.

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A man with a face only a fist could love.

In 1998, Wakefield and 12 other scientists published a paper on 12 kids who had gastrointestinal and developmental issues. According to their totally objective parents, these issues only showed up after the kids got their MMR vaccine. After a crazy battery of tests that included sampling the kids' intestines and stabbing needles into their spines (as we have written countless times before, science is at its best when it is scaring children), Wakefield concluded that there might be some link between the MMR vaccine and the various ailments that had befallen the children.

Just like that, Wakefield became the champion of the anti-vaccination movement, spurring on a generation of parents who forgo vaccines for fear of giving their children autism or other developmental disorders.

5 Ridiculous Lies That Fooled The Whole World

"You know, some babies actually like whooping cough."

The Con:

First, let's make it clear: The science shows that vaccines do not cause autism. If you don't believe the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you can look at the tens of thousands of non-U.S. children whose autism (or lack thereof) hasn't been tied to vaccines (or lack thereof). However, the subject has been the source of fierce controversy over the past few years, and what is so terrifying about the sudden drop in vaccinations (other than the now-epidemic levels of previously controlled diseases) is that most of the controversy came from dime-store scientist Andrew Wakefield.

For starters, Wakefield's own scientist couldn't duplicate Wakefield's results. Wakefield also manipulated his data to ensure that children who were sick before getting the vaccine were reported as only being sick after. He flat-out changed results he didn't like or that didn't completely agree with his hypothesis, all while performing needless, painful tests on children.


We've mapped the whole situation out, in case you find it hard to follow.

So why would he do all that?

Well, there's the patent for a new MMR vaccine that Wakefield filled out before he published his paper, and the money he accepted from a legal aid fund that was trying to sue vaccine manufacturers (it's almost as if he had a massive financial stake in scaring people into believing that the MMR vaccine was dangerous).

The paper was so flawed that 10 authors and the publisher of the journal it appeared in have retracted the work. That's right -- the people who helped create and publish the paper now say that it's bullshit. But don't worry -- stuff like this has a way of hanging around forever -- just ask the people who are still insisting that fluoride is poison 70 years later.

For more cons whose nuts had their own orbits, check out The 6 Ballsiest Scientific Frauds (People Actually Fell For). Or learn about The 7 Ballsiest Pranks You Won't Believe Actually Worked.

If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Shockingly Simple Art Heists That Actually Worked.

And stop by LinkSTORM to learn how to con Swaim away from his horde of dwarf treasure he keeps in the Lonely Mountain.

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