13 People Share Their Thoughts On History’s Biggest Scam

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Those heists and scams you see in movies don’t hold a candle to ones that really happened.

If you love history, you’re going to enjoy the heck out of this list of scams throughout the ages. Some you may have heard of, others you probably haven’t, but one thing’s for sure, you’re definitely in for some excitement.

#15. There’s a movie about it now

“The Bre-X Mining Scandal.

A Canadian mining company claimed that they had found 200,000,000 troy ounces of gold (that would be worth 257 billion USD today) in Indonesia in 1993. At their height the company was valued on the NASDAQ stock market at 6.9 billion USD (adjusted to 2018 with inflation).

The geologist who reported the 200 million troy ounces of gold was shaving his wedding ring into the drill core samples and making it look like all of the cores had an incredible amount of gold in them.

Eventually in 1997, another big mining company that was looking to acquire Bre-X did some due diligence and found that not only did their drills not detect any gold, but that the gold flecks in Bre-X’s drill samples were angled and sharp unlike flecks of gold that would be produced naturally. They concluded Bre-X were “salting” their samples.

Company got exposed as a fraud. The geologist who shaved his ring and made hundreds of millions off of selling stock reportedly “committed suicide” after he was found out. His reported method of suicide was jumping out of an Indonesian military helicopter and magically his hands, feet, and penis were surgically removed and the body was unrecognizable (yeah this guy definitely didn’t pay off the Indonesian military to fake his own death). Lawsuits hit the company that went bankrupt almost overnight. The CEO fled to the Bahamas, had his house broken into by masked gunmen who threatened to shoot him unless he turned over the money he owed them. He apparently died of a “brain aneurysm” three weeks after the break-in.

There is a movie about it that came out in 2016 with Matthew McConaughey and now we have a lot more regulations and requirements for mining companies in Canada that want to be listed on stock exchanges and go public.”

#14. Fading into rightful obscurity

“Scientology, which I’m actually glad to see not having already been mentioned here yet as that’s an indicator of it fading into rightful obscurity.”

#13. The largest in world history

“Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, the largest Ponzi scheme in world history, and the largest financial fraud in U.S. history.”

#12. Strength through joy

“Nazi Germany’s strength through joy program where you would save stamps to buy a VW beetle. Once started it was a mandatory scheduled payment (can’t remember the Interval). You would pay a certain amount each collection period and get a stamp to be put in a booklet to confirm the payment. If you missed a Single payment cycle the payments were forfeited and you’d have to start again if you wished. It was to lead up to you getting a car upon completion. Instead the funds went to the war effort and no cars were honored.

The same thing happened with the Prora holiday resort which was part of the same program.

For more Info and probably more accurate than what I’ve said so far see the below links…. Also James May did a show called “cars of the people” and he covered some of it as well although I can’t recall which episode he covered it in, good watch though would recommend.



#11. He took the bait

“Themistocles won the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC by writing a letter that indicated his forces were fleeing the area and Xerxes’ fleet needed only to move into the Straits of Salamis to be victorious. In reality, the information in the letter was false and Themistocles arranged for it to fall into Xerxes’ hands. Xerxes took the bait and his forces got smashed in the Straits; he wound up withdrawing and the entire tide of the Greco-Persian War shifted, resulting in Greek dominance (and, not incidentally, the continued development of Western culture as we know it).


#10. Piggyland

“Piggyland . It’s not the biggest scam but my favourite . In Toronto in the 40-50s, a guy( I can’t remember his name ) came up with a great investment idea . He would sell people piglets but also charge extra , upfront , for their food , care etc . He would take care of their pig on his farm and when it was full grown , the investor would sell it for a nice profit . He sold thousands of piglets! People would even bring their kids up to the farm on the weekends to visit and the parents would be happy to see their investments growing . They weren’t allowed in the barn but he had a nice meeting room set up where they could play with their pig . Then one day the owner took off to Germany with millions of investors dollars and was never heard from again . It turns out he only had a dozen or so pigs in different sizes . When people came to visit , they all saw the same few pigs .”

#9. It’s the ancestor

“The Spanish prisoner.

It started in the late 19th century as a scam where a con man would convince someone that he had a friend locked up in a Spanish prison, who knew the location of some buried treasure (or something similar). But to organise a jailbreak, bribe the guards, they needed some cash now, then they could all go share the treasure together.

Sound familiar? Because it’s the ancestor of other forms of advanced fee fraud, otherwise known as Nigerian email scams, 419 scams, etc.”

#8. A haunted house

“Surprised no one has mentioned H.H. Holmes! Creator of the haunted house as we know it. He would offer you a hotel room while you visit the Chicago World’s Fair and when you get to your room he gasses you and throws your body down a chute to his basement. Then he would burn the meat off your skeleton in his acid pit so he could sell your skeleton to the nearby college! Probably the biggest scam I know of!”

#7. If it was a slow month…

“Not sure if this counts but it’s pretty interesting… In Ancient Rome the fire service was ‘private’ (so to speak), and the main company putting out fires would only do so if they bought the house from the owner at a pittance of what it’s worth… Obviously many would do that or else become homeless, and the owner of the firefighting company became a very rich man. However, there were lots of rumours of buildings of interest to the company being set on fire on purpose, or indeed if it was a slow month business wise, just start a fire…”

#6. Amen

“Insurance. I have freaking volcano and riot coverage but not vandalism or theft.”

#5. Many died

“Scottish soldier Gregor MacGregor claimed he was made the leader of a country in Latin America which did not exist and then proceeded to earn himself a fortune by selling land and government bonds of said fictitious country to wealthy British and French investors. People got on ships and sailed there looking for land that didn’t exist. There was a tribe that was like, “No, there’s no colony here white folks.” They actually had to be convinced that they had been lied to. Many died.”

#4. Twice!

“There was a scammer who sold the Eiffel tower. Twice.

Victor Lustig. He was also an amazing counterfeiter, and he ran another infamous scam called the Rumanian Money Box (or something similar).

That last one is a favorite of mine. He’d show people a box with a crank, turn the crank, and a perfect $100 bill would pop out. He’d explain that the bill was an undetectable counterfeit, that the machine could make one such bill every 6 hours (turn the crank before then and you’d break the box), and he’d sell them the machine for like 5k-10k.

On at least two occasions someone bought the box, turned the crank early, and then found Lustig again and begged for help fixing it.”

#3. Or whatever

“Those “athletic” silicon bracelets a couple years ago that said they “improved your balance” or whatever”

#2. A huge amount of land

“When South America was discovered (through the Pacific mainly), Spain and Portugal were to draw a border to determine what each of them would own. Spain had the upper hand at the time. Portugal only requested land at the east of a certain parallel (can’t remember which), and Spain gladly accepted. A few month later, Brazil was discovered “by chance”, giving the Portuguese huge amount of land in the new world.

Edit: wow, so that’s my most upvoted comment yet, and not only is it very blurry (as I didn’t have enough internet connection to verify my information when I wrote it), it is even wrong ! Thank you everyone for pointing out my many mistakes on the treaty of Tordesillas !”

#1. It wasn’t his fault

“There was an arquitect in Texas who was given money to build a skyscraper. When he showed the blueprints to the investors, everyone signed off on it, but the made it in inches, not feet, so he built a really small building and kept the difference of the costs. The investors sued him, but the judge said it was perfectly legal because he built what he showed em, and it wasn’t his fault they didn’t bother looking closer. It is now called the words littlest skyscraper.”

Learning is fun, right!?