Greatest Con Artists of the 20th Century

For as long as people continue to be successful and make large sums of money and have extravagant items, there will be certain people known as scam artists that will try to take away their money

For as long as people continue to be successful and make large sums of money and have extravagant items, there will be certain people known as scam artists that will try to take away their money. For every good-hearted person there is, there is another scammer that is looking to take away the objects they worked hard for. As years have gone on and technology has advanced, online scams involving lotteries, home rental properties, and other objects have taken over the genre.

 Since the beginning of time, there have been people that have preyed on those that have more than they do. In the 1600s, Sir Isaac Newton proved that William Chaloner was a counterfeiter and trickster. In the 1800s, the Ponzi scheme was formed when Charles Ponzi began to pay investors with their own money.

 The 1900s saw their share of scam artists born and steal whenever they could. Who are the greatest scam artists of the 20th century?


10 James Hogue

Hogue began his career as a scam artist at an early age. At just 16, he enrolled in a high school in California with a name he adopted from a deceased baby. What he is most known for is enrolling at Princeton University with a different assumed name, saying he was a self-taught orphan. He was found to be a fraud by a fellow student and was arrested and sentenced to three years in jail. He also defrauded Harvard University, proving that no institution was safe from his con.


9 Sante Kimes

Kimes has been convicted of two murders, as well as robbery, forgery, and other crimes including violation of anti-slavery laws. The lives of Kimes and her son, Kenneth Jr., were portrayed in a television movie “Like Mother, Like Son: The Strange Story of Sante and Kenny Kimes.” Authorities believe that the duo killed Irene Silverman, a landlord of a $7.7 million mansion in Manhattan, and were convicted of the crime even without ever finding a body.


8 8.Robert Hendy-Freegard

Born in Britain, Freegard is known for masquerading as an MI5 agent. He told three students from the Harper Adams Agricultural College that he was sent to investigate an IRA cell at the school. He then convinced one of the students to let him be beaten up to prove himself and eventually all spent time in a Sheffield apartment to hide from “danger.” Freegard was able to swindle more than 300,000 euro from the students and their families over time and even had two children with one of the students.


7 7.Frank Abagnale

The movie “Catch Me if You Can” was based off of Abagnale and his life story. By his own admittance, he has been an airline pilot, doctor, U.S. Bureau of Prisons agent, and lawyer. He barely served five years in prison getting a job with the American government. He is a consultant with the FBI and has his own firm, Abagnale & Associates, which is a financial fraud consultancy company.


6 6.Steven Kunes

Once a scam artist, always a scam artist. That is a rendition of an old saying, but it holds true for Kunes. In 1982, Kunes attempted to sell an interview with J.D. Salinger to “People” magazine. The only problem with that was that he had never met the author. The article was never published, but the “Santa Barbara Daily Sound” ran a fake interview Kunes conducted with Jimmy Buffet. Kunes was a successful writer for the television shows “Love Boat” and “Out of this World,” but turned to the world of crime when he couldn't find more work.


5 5.Richard Allen Minsky

Minsky wasn't just a scam artist. By all accounts, he just wasn't a good guy. He was convicted of rape, assault, battery, extortion, larceny, sexual assault, sexual battery, and about a half dozen other charges. As a scammer, he was charged more than 80 times and convicted of schemes in California, Georgia, Florida, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. He is currently serving 146 years to life in prison at California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo.


4 4.Marc Stuart Dreier

One of the easiest ways to become a great scam artist is by creating a Ponzi scheme. That is what this lawyer did. Dreier was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in a scheme that is believed to have netted him more than $46 million from his clients. The courts took it easy on Dreier compared to Bernard Madoff. The government had asked for a 145 year sentence, but the judge chose to give him a fairer sentence for the crime in comparison to other Ponzi scheme masterminds.


3 Kenneth Lay

Enron was an energy, commodities, and services company based out of Houston, Texas. Lay was the chairman and CEO of the company and is believed to be the man behind the fraud that the company is believed to have taken part in throughout the 1990s. While Enron stock prices were on the rise, news of the hidden losses inside the company began to spread to executives who began selling off their shares. He died before serving jail time.


2 Lou Pearlman

The man who can take credit to finding the boy bands Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync is currently in prison after orchestrating a Ponzi scheme of his own. Pearlman is believed to have left investors missing a total of $300 million. Pearlman was getting investments for companies that he had fraudulent paperwork for. Pearlman was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2008, but was given a chance to reduce his sentence by a month for every million dollars he helped recover.


1 Bernard Madoff

Born in 1938, Madoff was a stockbroker, financier, and investment adviser, but the one thing he will be remembered for the most is being the greatest scam artist of the century. He was the chairman of NASDAQ and the perpetrator in what is believed to be the largest Ponzi scheme in history. In 2009, he pleaded guilty to 11 federal felonies and told authorities that he turned his wealth management organization into a Ponzi scheme that cost investors billions of dollars. He was sentenced to 150 years in prison and is currently being held at Butner Federal Correctional Institution.

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Greatest Con Artists of the 20th Century