10 of the Most Audacious Scams of All Time

by Shivam Khandelwal3 years ago

6 Howard Welsh and his girlfriend Lee-Hope Thrasher introduced a “divinely inspired” scheme in 1999 that brought in 1,000 investors in Virginia, the majority of whom were churchgoing and devout. They offered a financial plan called “Living Your Purpose,” which earned them more than $30 million. The scheme was nothing but a classic Ponzi scheme with a religious flavor.
Living Your Purpose
Image is used for representational purposes only. Image credit: Shutterstock

The 61-year-old scammer Howard Welsh tried selling “magical elixir” even before he started the new one, “Living Your Purpose.” 

Welsh appealed to the religious ones in the name of faith and claimed that if they believed in him, he would surely triple their deposits. 

He used all sorts of marketing techniques like advertising fliers, attending seminars in multiple states, and also mailed people. 

The Ponzi scheme that he developed with his girlfriend appealed to people since it was a tax-free investment for them, and they asserted that it is linked to a specific “mission.”

To make sure that their victims would have a sense of authenticity and trust, the couple sponsored a three-day training seminar throughout the US, and the themes of these seminars were deeply religious. 

A bank grew suspicious in 2001 after noticing a huge sum of money being transferred. 

The fraud was carried on until the 2000s, but investigations led to the couples’ capture in November 2004. Welsh was sentenced to 20 years of jail in the US. (1, 2, 3)


7 Construction of the Brooklyn Bridge ended in 1883. Just after that, a con man, George C. Parker, started selling it to the most gullible individuals by convincing them that once they buy the bridge, it would generate a fortune by charging tolls. He sold the bridge twice a week for years, and even other con artists started copying him. 

Brooklyn Bridge
George C Parker (Image to the left), Brooklyn Bridge. Image credits: Twitter, Shutterstock

This was not the first time Parker had sold something absurd. His fame also lies in selling Grant’s Tomb posing as the general’s grandson. He also apparently sold the Statue of Liberty, Madison Square Garden, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

He was convicted for his audacious crimes three times in his life, and for the last one in 1908, he was sentenced to lifelong imprisonment. 

The individuals who actually bought the Brooklyn Bridge went so far as to erect a barrier and toll booths across the bridge to control the public access to the bridge. 

After Parker, other con men also started selling the Brooklyn Bridge, and thus this story gave rise to the famous phrase, “…and if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you,” which essentially is used to mock someone extremely gullible. (1, 2)


8 Amidst the gas crisis in the 1970s, Geraldine Carmichael started up 20th Century Motor Car Cooperation and introduced a car named “Dale.” Dale was futuristic looking, a three-wheeled car that promised to solve the fuel crisis. These assertions garnered $30 million as investments and $3 million in advance sales. Investigations soon found that manufacturing plants, production, and research plans, Dale, and everything was fictional.

Elizabeth Carmichael is the subject of the HBO docu-series, “The Lady and the Dale.” Image credit: HBO via YouTube

The Dale was apparently a bright yellow, 70-miles-per-gallon, three-wheeled car. The alluring advertisements of the imaginary car made customers deposit their hard-earned money, and investors from foreign countries, as well, to invest in the new invention. 

The car was priced at $2,000 in those times. 

For the sake of advertisement, Carmichael had assembled a team of designers to make something that appears like a car’s body, attached three wheels, and coated it with a shining yellow color. 

She was convicted of fraud charges and was sentenced to 20 years of prison, but she fled with the investors’ money without any trace. She was, however, found in 1989 in Dale, Texas of all places and was sentenced to 10 years of prison in California. She died in 2004 of cancer. (1, 2)


9 ZZZZ Best was a rug-cleaning firm owned by Barry Minkow. The company’s share value exploded to a total sum of $200 million. In reality, the firm didn’t exist, didn’t have any contracts, and was originally funded by a number of credit card thefts. The scam was exposed in 1987, and Minkow was sentenced to prison for 25 years.

Barry Minkow
Minkow in 2009. Image credit: SANDY HUFFAKER, BLOOMBERG NEWS via latimes

Minkow was 16 and still in school when he set up the ZZZZ Best firm in 1982 in Inglewood, California. 

To fund the company, Minkow stole money from relatives and relied on credit card frauds. 

The real success occurred for Minkow in 1986 when he captured the market. 

He hired Interstate Appraisal Services that acted as the firm’s best clients. He took loans from other big businesses and banks and started dealing with cash in a Ponzi style. 

One accusation of fraud in an article in the Los Angeles Times prepared by Minkow appeared, which resulted in cutting off all sources of his loans and funds. Later, his entire scam broke down. He had to resign as the CEO of the company and was imprisoned a year later on charges of fraud. 

This experience was not enough for Minkow, though, because he was again arrested in 2011 for insider trading. (source)


10 In December 1936, 28 people set up the “Baker Estate Hoax.” They claimed that a wealthy individual of Philadelphia named Jacob Baker recently passed away leaving behind his estate open to anyone named Baker. The swindlers collected $3 million from 3,000 Bakers all across the US who paid to stake their claims. However, Jacob Baker never existed, and neither did the property.

Baker estate Haux
Baker estate fraud The Daily Capital News (Jefferson City, Missouri) 16 Dec 1936 page 2. Image credit: newspaper

The rumors revolving around Jacob Baker stayed around for 70 long years, and everything is to be blamed on the 28 swindlers who promoted the fraud scheme through mails. 

The promoters of the fraud asserted that the estate was worth something between $1.8 billion to $3 billion. 

William Cameron Smith, a Canadian, was regarded as the most prominent leader of the entire scheme. The hoax was divided into three groups that spread the absurd rumor all across the nation.

All 28 were accused of promoting an email scam in 1936. (source)

Also Read:
12 Absolutely Insane Stories About People Who Won a Lottery

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