6 Outrageous Cons That Shouldn't Have Worked (But Did)
A good con is at least somewhat based in reality. You can sell a rube the Eiffel Tower, but probably not Hitler's diamond-encrusted Martian party mansion. But not every con is a "good con" ... and it turns out they don't have to be. Every so often, a scam comes along that's so insane that even the people pulling it don't think it'll work. But it does. And how!
The Swedish Mafia And A Doomsday Cult Stole $200 Million With A Terrible Game Console
Bo Stefan Eriksson was the leader of the "Uppsala Mafia," a Swedish gang known for their brutal debt collection tactics, but he wanted more out of life. So he went into an even more predatory line of work: the video game industry. In 2003, he and his cronies disappeared and resurfaced in London as executives of a tech company founded by a doomsday cult based out of Lake City, Florida (the only place impervious to Armageddon, since it can't get any worse).
With funding from the "End Timers," Eriksson started promoting the Gizmondo, an impressively shitty handheld video game console. It was bulky, cost twice as much as the Nintendo DS, and could only play games like Sticky Balls and Momma Can I Mow The Lawn? Neither of those titles is a joke. How could we possibly top them?
But the point of the Gizmondo wasn't to make good games; it was to swindle wealthy investors (who it turns out aren't always expert gamers). Eriksson was able to wow London's financial community with lavish parties and tales of the Gizmondo's amazing tech, including a tracking chip that would supposedly let you monitor your child's every move. Exactly what every teen wants!
Related: The 5 Ballsiest Con Artists Of All Time
People were queuing up to invest, and the company used that money to run up losses of $382.5 million -- $200 million of which can't be properly accounted for. Many of the "third-party" companies paid to develop games were secretly owned by Eriksson himself, and if all that money went to producing the games, it certainly didn't show. When everything came to light, the Swedes vanished again, and didn't resurface until Eriksson's Ferrari had a run-in with one of California's famed vibranium lampposts in 2006.
It gets weirder. When the cops showed up, Eriksson produced an ID naming him deputy commissioner of anti-terrorism for the San Gabriel Valley Transit Authority police. The SGVTA, it turned out, was a small bus company that had about a dozen employees, five buses for disabled people ... and its own police force. Which is legal in California. They had more cops than buses.
Eriksson was made anti-terrorism chief after offering to install facial recognition cameras on the buses -- which, again, were mostly used to shuttle disabled people. He and his boys then used their badges to buy guns without background checks. Presumably with the proceeds from his doomsday cult sham portable gaming system. Make sense of those keywords, Google.
Conmen Set Up An Entire Fake Country And Fooled Thousands
The Dominion of Melchizedek was a self-declared "ecclesiastical state" founded by Branch Vinedresser and/or his father, who may or may not have faked his death in a Mexican prison. The details are obviously a little shaky. The idea was for the Dominion to act as a "mother ship" for con artists, providing them with fake bank licenses, fake passports -- basically fake anything they needed. Their supposed territory consisted of a small island which was underwater most of the year, 14,000 square miles of Antarctica, and ten percent of the Earth's oceans. One of its key officials was Mr. Harvey Penguini of "Rockefeller Plaza, Antarctica," seen here in security footage:
But come on, who'd fall for that?
Thousands and thousands of people all over the world, it turns out.
Related: I'm Not Really Royalty: The World Of Nigerian Internet Scams
At least 1,400 investors in and around the U.S. lost over $4 million in a Dominion-registered bank, forcing the SEC to put out a statement explaining that "Melchizedek is not a country." The word "idiots" was only implied. Another Dominion bank took $10 million in Australia. Conmen successfully cashed checks from Melchizedek banks, and a guy in Sydney raised $2.2 million to invest in this nonexistent country's doubly nonexistent "infrastructure projects."
Passports went for $3,500 to unfortunate Filipinos who were told they could get U.S. visas with them. Others paid bribes up to $32,000 to secure jobs in the Dominion government -- which, to be clear, mostly consisted of a fictional penguin. The country even managed to get diplomatic recognition from the Central African Republic, and the president of a breakaway republic in Kosovo personally announced they would exchange ambassadors (which hopefully wasn't a euphemism for forced drowning).
When California started investigating, the Dominion's current president, Elvira Gamboa, delivered perhaps the greatest diplomatic response ever sent by a head of state, real or imagined:
The Dominion also declared war on France, claiming to have Soviet-era nukes hidden in a secret base in the Carpathians. Despite that terrifying arsenal, Melchizedek's criminal operations were shut down by law enforcement in the '90s, and the "country" now mostly exists as a crappy website. Hey, we've all been there, guys.
A Man Opened A Bank In Grenada Using Nothing But A Photo Of A Ruby
"Van A. Brink" arrived in Grenada on a Melchizedek passport in 1997, so you know this is gonna be good. His real name was Gilbert Ziegler, and he was running from a shady business collapse in Oregon that left him bankrupt. But that didn't stop him from announcing he had come to Grenada to set up a major international bank. Luckily, he had just the thing to make his dream a reality: a ruby!
Well, a picture of one, anyway.
Related: 5 Stupid Get-Rich-Quick Scams (People Still Fall For)
No seriously, his startup capital for his bank was a photo of a ruby he said he owned, along with an "appraisal document" claiming it was worth $20 million. He marched into banks and government offices with those two pieces of paper and asked for credit and a banking license. And perhaps because they didn't have reverse image searches back then, real banks and the Grenadian government both signed off on Ziegler's photo-based financial institution.
Before long, Ziegler's First International Bank of Grenada was flying investors down from the U.S. to offer them yearly returns of 500 percent. It also reported $26 billion in profit, which would have made it the most profitable company in the world by about $20 billion. If any of that sounds too good to be true, then zero congratulations! You have a basic grasp on the world around you. You do not get a medal for that.
Of course, it was all a massive Ponzi scheme. Despite the glaring neon warning signs, the bank still suckered investors out of $206 million before the whole thing came crashing down. Ziegler fled to live in Idi Amin's old house in Uganda, because crazy recognize crazy. There's no evidence that the ruby ever existed beyond that photo, which he took from a comic book for all we know.
A Guy Pretending To Be A Dutch Aristocrat To Get Laid Ended Up King Of Andorra
Small-time Russian conman Boris Skossyreff spent the 1920s kicking around Europe pretending to be a Dutch aristocrat and "professor of physical culture" (nice) to stick it to rich ladies. Nobody took him very seriously, since wealthy counts don't usually flounder for excuses to avoid picking up the check at restaurants. Skossyreff finally hit the jackpot when he shacked up with Florence Marmon, the ex-wife of American automobile tycoon Howard Marmon, who was so rich she could pay her own restaurant bills.
But then Skossyreff got greedy. In 1934, he and Mrs. Marmon took a trip to Andorra, a tiny mountain country that was (and still is) jointly ruled by the president of France and the Spanish Bishop of Urgell. The glamorous "Count of Orange" easily impressed the locals with tales of his exploits throughout Europe. He then presented a document proposing various administrative reforms and asked to be made their king. Obviously, the Andorrans told him to fuck right off ... into the throne room, because he was their new ruler.
The Andorrans were so dissatisfied with foreign rule (France had sent 60 policemen to put down a tiny rebellion the year before) that they figured some random aristocrat would be an upgrade. So the Andorran Council voted 23-1 to crown Boris I as their monarch, fully confident that there was no way they were now being ruled by King Deuce Bigalow, European Gigolo.
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Unfortunately, that one "no" vote headed straight across the border to the Bishop of Urgell, who sent the Spanish police to arrest the new king. Boris responded by declaring war on the Bishop, claiming to have 500 volunteers ready to go. The Spanish police still dragged him back to Spain, where his shady past and lack of nobility was discovered. He ended up being deported from Spain as a vagrant after a disappointed Mrs. Marmon refused to upgrade his train ticket to first class.
The Man Who Funded Watergate Escaped To The Caribbean And Claimed To Cure AIDS And Cancer
Robert Vesco used to walk into a company with empty pockets and offer to buy the place on the condition that they give him an inventory of all the machinery first. He would then take that list to a bank, get a loan against "his" equipment, buy the plant with its own money, sell everything, and pocket the difference. And that was just a regular Tuesday for Vesco. But then he met an even bigger crook: the U.S. President.
By the 1970s, Vesco had conned his way into control of a mutual fund managing $700 million -- money he started "investing" in shell companies set up in various tax havens (read: stealing). With the profits, he bought a private Boeing 707 with an onboard disco nicknamed "Silver Phyllis" after the cabin crew caught syphilis. Within a decade or so, Vesco had stolen at least $224 million (over $1 billion today), enough to make him one of the richest men in the world. That's when the SEC started thinking that this guy might not be on the up and up.
To stump the SEC, Vesco turned to ol' Dick Nixon, who needed cash to fund the shady shenanigans that have made him such a beloved figure today. Vesco handed over $200,000 in unmarked bills, which went to funding the Watergate break-in. But for once in his life, Vesco found himself thoroughly out-weaseled, since the president didn't do shit to help him. Nixon can actually be heard in the White House tapes insisting that the $200,000 couldn't be considered a bribe, since Vesco got nothing in return.
Vesco fled to Costa Rica, which passed a law specifically to prevent his extradition ($224 million has that effect on politicians). During his exile, Vesco kept busy with some gun running here, some cocaine smuggling there, and dodging the many FBI agents trying to kidnap him everywhere. He also tried to buy the island of Barbuda in order to start his own country where crime would be legal. In Cuba, he teamed up with the nephews of Dick Nixon and Fidel Castro to market a drug that would cure cancer and AIDS. Fidel eventually got fed up and threw Vesco in jail, where he died in 2004. Of cancer. So that part was probably a con too, huh.
Related: 6 Stupid Crowdfunding Scams That Should Have Been Obvious
A Hedge Fund Scammer Got Scammed By The Illuminati's Secret Stock Market
Sam Israel was a hedge fund manager who once became furious with his wife for suggesting he was doing cocaine merely because she had found him facedown in a pile of white powder with a $20 bill up his nose. When his fund performed badly, Israel covered up the losses by turning it into a Madoff-style Ponzi scheme. But this entry is not about him. No, this is about the guy who brazenly scammed the already brazen scammer.
By 2004, Israel had lost $100 million and was desperate to make it back before his investors noticed. That's when he met Robert Booth Nichols, who claimed to be a CIA black ops assassin. We don't know if that's true, but we do know that he played a general in Under Siege. This guy was literally a Steven Seagal movie character.
Anyway, Nichols told Israel that the world was secretly ruled by an alliance of 13 ancient families known as "the Octopus," and that all the largest banks ran a "shadow market" where the elite doubled their money every ten days. The market was open to only a chosen few, but Nichols could totally get Israel on board. Israel's greed must have been so great that it grew arms and slapped him upside the head, causing permanent brain damage, because he completely bought this Alex Jones bullshit.
As collateral for Israel's initial $150 million investment, Nichols gave him a rusty metal box, which he claimed contained $100 million in bonds that a Japanese general had hidden in a cave at the end of WWII. He warned Israel not to try to open the box, as it was booby-trapped with explosives. As a freebie, he also threw in another box supposedly containing the truth of the JFK assassination, because all these secret boxes were really cluttering his apartment.
After working for a while in the elaborate fake office Nichols built just for him, Israel finally got suspicious when he failed to withdraw his $942 million in "profits." In order to reel Israel back in, Nichols staged a fake gun battle with a turban-wearing assassin, complete with a bloody head explosion. Israel was so impressed that he sent Nichols $120 million more for the secret market.
Fortunately, this huge wire to Europe was so suspicious that the authorities froze it and launched an investigation. Israel tried to fake his own suicide by falling off a mountain, but was found and arrested for fraud. Nichols apparently died of a heart attack around that time, but that's what he'd want you to think, isn't it? Anyway, since the wire was ultimately frozen, Nichols only got his hands on $10 million, which is almost sad, considering how hard he worked for it.
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