4 Scams That Are Older Than You Think
The modern world might be a confusing mess where seemingly everyone is out to get you and your money, but it wasn't always this way, right? Back in ye olden days, didn't people used to be fair and kind and decent to be each other? No. No, they were not ...
William Shakespeare Was A Price Gouging Douche
Lately, we've seen a lot of news stories about price gouging. It's a despicable practice where retailers treat essential goods like limited-edition Funko Pop's, raising the prices on bottled water, canned goods, and um, face masks knowing that desperate consumers will be forced to shell out the cash. You might assume this is just an issue of modern-day capitalism, and, in ye olden days, merchants might be inclined to price things a bit more fairly -- if to avoid a getting stabbed in the bean sack over a sack of beans. You'd be wrong, though.
According to a group of researchers, price gouging wasn't just a thing that old-timey retailers did all the time, but one of its most-infamous practitioners was none other than William Shakespeare. When he wasn't banging out classic plays, Willie Shakesdown pulled double duty as a landlord and money-lender. With the considerable profits he gleaned from these activities, Shakespeare would buy up huge stocks of grain, malt, and barley -- which he'd sell tradesmen and his neighbors at inflated prices, the proceeds of which would then be funneled back into his money-lending business.
Eventually, like a pantalooned Al Capone, the taxmen caught up with him for tax evasion. Shakespeare was also prosecuted in 1598 by local authorities for hoarding grain during a time of shortage because, oh right, did we forgot to mention that part? At the time he was screwing over his neighbors, England was suffering from a climate shift which caused crops to fail, causing food shortages -- meaning that he wasn't just being a dick for dick's sake, he was a dick who was extorting his neighbors on pain of death by starvation.
Current Celebrity Pseudoscience Grifters Have Got Nothing On "Madam Rachel"
We're not going to pretend for a single second that the past wasn't full of people peddling pseudoscience bullshit everywhere from newspaper ads to street corners. There's a reason the phrase "snake oil" exists, after all. In recent years, however, we've seen the rise of a new type of grifter: the celebrity pseudoscience grifter who believes in the power of holistic medicine and diet teas almost as much they don't believe in science and regulatory agencies. It's a trend best exemplified by people like Dr. Oz, Oprah, or Gwenyth Paltrow, and Alex Jones, a duo that, as we've previously noted, make for strange bedfellows. Although, to our knowledge, Alex Jones has yet to push a jade egg into his urethra.
As it turns out, though, these idiots aren't revolutionary in any sense of the word: they're just ripping off a grift from the 1860s.
In 1863, a mysterious jezebel named 'Madame Rachel' opened a cosmetic store in the fashionable district of Mayfair, London. This was revolutionary for two things: first, a woman opening a business; second, makeup was a rare commodity in Victorian London. Queen Victoria herself decreed that the only women who wore makeup were theatergoers and hookers. This meant many high society ladies had to resort to making their own from whatever household (or palatial estate) bullshit they could find, like a bunch of Etsy-less savages.
So when Madame Rachel opened her doors for the first time, you can imagine the reaction. She was adored and praised like she was a god as women from across the country came to sample her fabulous wares. They soon wished that they hadn't.
In reality, "Madame Rachel" was Sarah Rachel Russell -- a blackmailer, con artist, and prostitute who after marrying into wealth (three times; two of her husbands died), rose through the ranks of high society to become a total #girlboss. You'll notice that we didn't mention her having any experience manufacturing cosmetics, and there's a good reason for that. The store's stock of overpriced creams, elixirs, powders, and washes was actually a chemical soup of toxins and corrosives like prussic acid, lead, and arsenic. To her credit, though, Rachel wasn't lying when she said her products would have "drastic results."
But, don't worry. When women fell victim to Madam Rachel's Cure-Nothing Chemical Wash, she had just the product for them: a super-expensive vial of dew, extracted from a magnetic rock in the Sahara Desert. Or to put it another way, a vial of normal water mixed with some bran. At least they got a regular digestive system out of it.
Of course, Rachel's scam couldn't last forever, and after several years, she was caught, unmasked, and put on trial -- where it was revealed that when one of her clients couldn't pay for their goods, she would accept their jewels as collateral and sell them nonetheless. She was eventually found guilty of fraud in 1868, and once more in 1878, which led to her dying in prison in 1880. A real shame because we're sure if she'd kept going, Netflix would've come knocking.
Election Fraud Used To Involve A Multi-Day Kidnapping
As long as there've been free elections, there've been worries of people attempting to rig them any way they can. Of all the possible methods, however, none beats the pure insanity of "cooping," a method of election fraud practiced in the nineteenth century by violent street gangs. They would kidnap people in the days before an election and hold them "like chickens in a coop" (hence the name) until the big day, when they'd be filled up with drugs and/or alcohol and forced to vote over and over and over again for a specific candidate -- who more often than not, was bankrolling the whole operation.
To avoid suspicion by election officials, the victims (coopees?) would swap clothes with each other, and repeat this farce until the end of the voting day. They'd then be cast out into the street and left to find their own way back home. As for pay, the coopees were paid handsomely for their services -- by which we mean, "they didn't get the shit kicked out of them too often."
Many victims of 'cooping' were immigrants who, as newly-arrived persons, weren't likely to be missed and were even less likely to be taken seriously by the police if they decided to rat the gang out. It could have happened to anyone, though, which has led to speculation that this is how Edgar Allan Poe met his end in 1849 after he was found drunk and half-naked outside a tavern that'd been used as a polling place that same day.
This wasn't the only form that cooping took. When gangs weren't sending people to the polls, they were sending them everywhere but the polls -- either by forcing them to leave town on pain of a beating, dumping them somewhere outside the state, or just plain old murder.
This was the way of things until new voting laws came in to make elections, y'know, work. Voters' identities were scrutinized and the installation of private booths, sometimes with police watchers, to ensure that there was no funny business. This is why, as of this writing, voter fraud is extremely rare -- despite whatever rant your uncle posts to Facebook.
Old-School Catfishing Happened In Newspapers Across The Nation
If you've ever been duped on a dating app or took up a comment section bot on their offer of "all the sexxx of it possible 2nite," congratulations, you're one of the thousands of people every year who has fallen victim to a catfishing scam. For obvious reasons, this seems like something that can't have a parallel in the past, where most romantic overtures began with a face-to-face meeting, not a salacious telegram which begins with "80085" and ends by asking for the details of your bank account. Except it totally did.
Back in the 1880s, a gazette known as the Matrimonial Herald and Fashionable Marriage Gazette promised to provide "high-class matches" to men and women (although it was mostly men) looking for wives and husbands, using ads in national newspapers. When someone wanted in on this hot action, they would respond and, in return, be provided with a copy of the Gazette -- which as the ads promised, was full of ads from wealthy women looking for spouses. If they wanted to respond to any of these ads, however, they'd have to cough up a fee equivalent to $10 because you can put a price on true love if you're not a coward.
As you've probably worked out, though, the ads used to lure these men in were fakes designed to do just that -- lure gullible idiots into thinking that there were, indeed, hot, single, rich ladies in their area TONIGHT. After the men paid their fee, the women they enquired about would suddenly disappear or be snapped up by another client of the Gazette. But, have no fear. There were still plenty of women left. Although, no refunds. This pattern would continue for a few cycles until the Gazette did eventually hook them up with a woman -- who very often, was a servant or another working-class type who signed-up to talk to hot, single, rich men, and why is this not a movie already?
This scam went on for a solid decade, from 1884 to 1895, until the police got tired of all the complaints and raided the Gazette's premises, and arrested its editors who were swiftly put on trial and jailed.
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