According to a wise Jewish saying, there are two idiots in the market: one attempting to purchase cheaply and the other attempting to sell at a higher price. What can be said about the alternatives when a tidbit in the shape of a renowned edifice, property, or monument is put up for sale for a “exclusive” price?
Many scam scenarios have occurred throughout history, and many more remain unreported since not everyone is willing to recognize their lack of financial literacy and avarice. Today, we’ll look at how swindlers managed to sell the White House, the Winter Palace, the Eiffel Tower, and other landmarks, as well as what happened to them.
White House is too costly to keep running
This is what the English swindler Arthur Fergusson complained about while discussing the property with a rich customer. According to his credible sources, the US government is gravely worried about the financial troubles since the president’s family’s upkeep is too costly for the treasury.
As a result, a long-term lease for 99 years with the option to purchase for $2 million was explored as an alternative. What are your thoughts? A banker wanted to move into the White House and paid a large quantity of money to a purportedly plenipotentiary government official. However, this was not Fergusson’s only successful transaction.
Back at home, he started by selling forgeries of ancient coins he claimed to have received from his grandpa, who had uncovered a treasure. Then a crook’s attention has drawn a column of Admiral Nelson’s attention – in 1925, it is obligated to retain undamaged, even to send across the ocean trusting American. And then the bogus owner’s hunger ran wild, and in only a few months, he was able to “sell” practically all of England’s attractions. The fraudster proceeded with caution, preferring to accept a deposit and then vanish.
So, naïve bidders paid a thousand pounds for the Tower, a thousand pounds for Buckingham Palace and the same sum emptied the pockets of hungry visitors who wanted to acquire Westminster Abbey. The strange thing is that when Fergusson was apprehended, he told the court, “I wanted to explore the boundaries of human idiocy.”
You can earn a lot of money crossing the Brooklyn Bridge
That was the tale of another con artist. George Parker, an American, had a good knowledge of human psychology; therefore, he had no trouble gaining the confidence of visiting visitors. He excitedly informed them how much money they might make by arranging a toll-free passage on the Brooklyn Bridge or numerous festivals. And, of course, he ended up as the structure’s owner who, for whatever reason, didn’t have the time to do it himself.
The influx of individuals wanting to purchase the bridge did not stop – Parker “sold” it twice a week, and the cops grumbled that they only had time to drive away the “new owners” of real estate who wanted to erect turnstiles on the bridge.
Parker even built many sales offices to offer anyone interested in purchasing the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Madison Square Garden, the Statue of Liberty, Grand’s tomb, and other sites. Those who wanted to do so were given a complete set of expertly fabricated title documents. Nonetheless, by the end of 1928, the thief had been apprehended: (three!) incidents of fraud had been proven.
He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. However, both the guards and the “inmates” of Sing Sing jail admired the cunning swindler. There was even a catchphrase: “Perhaps you believe I have a bridge to offer you.” It is utilized when they wish to demonstrate to their interlocutor that his goal to get wealthy borders on foolishness.
The Eiffel Tower is only good for scrap metal
Such a publication in the press prompted the idea of a wonderful scam of Victor Lustig. However, even before that, the successful swindler was engaged in subtle and well-thought-out measures to “divorce” simpletons.
This outstanding person was born into a respected bourgeois family, received an excellent education, and could speak five languages, but an adventurous mindset predetermined his fate. He used 45 pseudonyms, and only in the United States was he arrested and released 50 times – each time, he managed to get away with it. In his youth, he started with gambling and lotteries. In the 1920s, he managed to lure tens of thousands of dollars from citizens and banks.
Rumor has it that even the gangster Al Capone was among the victims. Perhaps that is why the swindler fled to Europe, where he came across a publication about the dilapidation of the Eiffel Tower. Lustig realized that this was a great chance to replenish finances. He rented an expensive hotel, forged a credential, on which he identified himself as Deputy Minister of Post and Telegraph, and sent out “official” invitations to a meeting to six ferrous metal magnates.
At the consultation, he told each of them that the government had been thinking about demolishing this huge iron structure for a long time, and a closed auction was to take place in the near future.
Confidentiality is required, as the hype organized by the newspapermen showed that not all residents and guests of the capital are ready to part with their favorite attraction. As a result, the Eiffel Tower was sold, and one of the contractors received the “rights” to demolish and dismantle the structure. Needless to say, the businessman, stunned by the audacity, was afraid to go to the police, so as not to harm his business reputation. Victor Lustig made such a scam twice, each time managing to run overseas.
The Winter Palace is a great investment in real estate
As they say, Russia is also rich in this kind of nuggets. A Russian with noble roots, who was known as a successful swindler in many European prisons, is Nikolai Savin. It is known that while in Italy, he committed a major scam for the first time. He came to rest, posing as a merchant engaged in horse breeding. Miraculously or somehow, but he managed to conclude an agreement with the local government for the supply of a large batch for the needs of the Italian army.
He fled to Bulgaria, having received an advance, but already as a French nobleman-banker, Count Toulouse de Lautrec. Seeing his financial solvency and appealing to his connections in “monetary” issues, the top of the country offered Savin the Bulgarian throne in exchange for a huge loan. If not for the case, this scam could well have taken place – he was identified by a barber who knew Savin in St. Petersburg.
The fraudster had nothing to run into, but the dodger still managed to become famous from Europe to China. The February revolution in Russia gave him a new chance at home. It is not known how he managed to get the post of the head of the Winter Palace security. But such a position opened up amazing prospects.
In the short interval between the two revolutions, there was a real boom in real estate purchases. And one of the foreigners accidentally went out to Savin, who immediately introduced himself as the owner of the Winter Palace. An experienced swindler had enough experience to draw up a bill of sale. The deal was made in the evening, but in the morning, Savin was already gone. Legend has it that the swindler also cruelly laughed at the gullible buyer: the contract’s text ended with the words ‘they don’t sow fools, don’t reap’.