Con Men

57 articles
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The Con Artist Hired to Clean Ebola

During the financial crisis, Sal Pane ran a multimillion-dollar mortgage scam. A few years later, with the help of some high-profile media appearances and a dead man's resume, he won the government contract to clean up Ebola in New York.


Plus: Our complete archive of articles about con men.

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The Spy Who Scammed Us?

Jamie Smith said he was a co-founder of Blackwater and a former CIA officer. He appeared on cable news as a counterterrorism expert and he received millions in goverment contracts to train personnel. The money was real. The resume wasn’t.

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The Talented Mr. Young

Alan Young has been running the same scam for years: posing as a member of The Temptations and smooth-talking his way into luxury hotel rooms and prostitutes. Despite his clear charm, he admits he has “no skills other than being a con man.”

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The Chameleon

Frédéric Bourdin was an imposter. His "trail of cons," for which he used five languages and dozens of identities, extended for years across Europe and America.

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Secrets of the Tax-Prep Business

How pop-up tax preparers make billions off the poor.

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Prisoners of Rock 'n' Roll

Badfinger’s ill-fated attempt at a comeback, as orchestrated by a Milwaukee con man.

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Is She for Real?

On a cruise with Syvlia Browne, the controversial psychic famous for telling distraught parents where their missing children are.

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When Thugs and Hustlers Ruled Dark Alleys

The gamblers and teenage cons who haunted New York City’s 60s-era all night bowling alleys.

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Spellbinder

At various points, Thomas Mitchell was a novelist, an attorney, a scientist, a Hollywood dealmaker and a CIA higher-up. He was also a con man.

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The Rise and Fall of the Cincinnati Boner King

A jailhouse interview with Steve Washak, who made millions selling “natural male enhancement” pills.

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The Gangster Princess of Beverly Hills

The rise and fall of Lisette Lee, the self-proclaimed “Korean Paris Hilton,” who was busted for drug trafficking.

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The Debtor

Darren Lumar lived in mansions he didn’t own, ran companies that didn’t make a dime, went to colleges that didn’t exist and slept with “any number of women” despite being married to James Brown’s daughter. When he was murdered, the cops had a problem: too many possible suspects.

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Adam Wheeler Went to Harvard

Adam Wheeler lied on his college application. Lawrence Summers facilitated the destruction of the global economy.

Only one of these Harvard men was given jail time.

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The Talented M. Despallières

How the author became tangled up with an international con man who may or may not have murdered several people.

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Injustice for All

John MacNeil was convicted by the state of Massachusetts of second-degree murder. He was given a life sentence. He escaped. He was caught. Through an incredible feat of jailhouse lawyering, he somehow got himself paroled and exiled to Canada. Then he came home.

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The Phantom King of Buffalo

A 21-year-old’s audacious real estate scam and subsequent escape.

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Lawrence Williams: No Romeo

How a convicted sexual predator emptied the bank accounts and ruined the lives of several women from behind bars.

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Château Sucker

The world of high-end wine gets conned.

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The Montauk Grifter: How One Con Man Used OkCupid for Fun, Fraud, and Profit

He has worked for Apple, Google, AOL, the Rainbow Room. He hangs out with Steve Case, Gordon Ramsey, Tim Armstrong. He's a world-class surfer, a AAA baseball legend, the founder of a seminal punk band. He's one of the more persistent and obsessive grifters to ply the streets of New York City—not to mention online dating sites—in recent decades.
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Con Artist Starred in Sting That Cost Google Millions

How the U.S. government used a serial con who was caught running a mail-order steroid pharmacy in Mexico to prove that Google was knowingly placing ads for illegal drugs.

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Barry Minkow: All-American Con Man

Con man turned pastor turned con man; a profile of a serial scammer and the movie he tried to make about himself.

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A Missouri Town's Sweet Dreams Turn Sour

How the town of Moberly, population 14,000, got conned.

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Confessions of a Car Salesman

An investigative reporter goes undercover at a dealership to learn the tricks of the trade, of which there are many.

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The Turnaround Men

A charismatic entrepreneur, an ex-con turned devout Christian, and the politicians who championed them.

The story of a $36 billion Ponzi scheme in Minnesota.

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The Predator

How an Italian thug looted MGM, brought Credit Lyonnais to its knees, and made the Pope cry.
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The Robin Hood of the East Bay

She was the biggest tipper the waiters at some of the country’s most gourmet restaurants had ever seen. She treated casual acquaintances to elaborate vacations. Few saw the tiny bungalow where she lived amongst hundreds of boxes of unopened jewelry, and none knew the source of her wealth. When her multi-decade embezzlement scheme was revealed, the artisans and waitstaff whose lives had been changed by her generosity were left to sort out the pieces and consider their own relationship to her scam.

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The Man Who Time (Almost) Forgot

On William H. McMasters, who ten days after being hired as Charles Ponzi’s publicist wrote a scathing exposé in The Boston Post that revealed the biggest fraud, at the time, in American history.

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The Real Education of Little Tree

The story of Asa Earl Carter, aka Forrest Carter, the best-selling author of The Education of Little Tree, an autobiographical novel about “communion with nature and love of one’s fellow man.” He was also a Klansman, penning the famous George Wallace line, “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!”

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Fantasy Island: The Strange Tale of Alleged Fraudster Pearlasia Gamboa

Behind a financial fraud lay a secret plan to create a “mothership for con artists worldwide”:

Gamboa's tale involves secret ore deposits, hidden stocks of Soviet nuclear armaments, the Queen Mary ocean liner, portions of Antarctica, a new version of the Bible, allegations of fake deaths and miraculous resurrections, and a collection of some of the most colorful aliases ever to grace America's criminal and civil case dockets. (According to court documents, Korem also answers to the names Tzemach Ben David Netzer Korem and Branch Vinedresser.)

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The Chilling Story of Genius in a Land of Chronic Unemployment

On the ground in Nigeria with the nation’s notorious scam artists, who share a remarkable number of qualities with America’s top entrepreneurs.

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The Long Con

The anatomy of a bungled, massively expensive undercover sting conducted by the Seattle Police Department.

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The Hipster Grifter

How a 22-year-old with five warrants for her arrest in Utah conned her way through Brooklyn armed with nothing more than a dirty mouth and a penchant for faking pregnancy and/or cancer.

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The Real Housewives of Wall Street

The story of $220M in bailout money.

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The True Life Case of the Dirty P.I.

A private investigator asks a magazine to write a puff piece on his business. The journalist finds a real story.

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The Saga of the Scientific Swindler!

In the 1880’s, a shabbily dressed man popped up in numerous America cities, calling upon local scientists, showing letters of introduction claiming he was a noted geologist or paleontologist, discussing both fields at a staggeringly accomplished level, and then making off with valuable books or cash loans.

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Gizmondo's Spectacular Crack-Up

One of the most valuable cars in the world crashes going 200 mph on the Pacific Coast Highway. Its owner claims to be an anti-terrorism officer. In fact, he’s a former executive at a failed software company—and a career criminal. The unraveling of an epic con.

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Sex Thief

One part rapist, one part con-man; the story of the seemingly unconvictable Hy Doan.

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The Madoff Tapes

“One evening, my home phone rang. ‘You have a collect call from Bernard Madoff, an inmate at a federal prison,’ a recording announced. And there he was.”

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The Choke Artist

Henry Heimlich saved untold choking victimes when he invented his maneuver in 1974. Since then, he’s searched in vain for another miracle treatment—pushing ethical boundaries along the way. Now at the end of his career, Heimlich has hired an investigator to find an anonymous critic working full-time to destroy his legacy.

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Why Isn't Wall Street in Jail?

“The entire system set up to monitor and regulate Wall Street is fucked up. Just ask the people who tried to do the right thing.”

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The King of Home Equity Fraud

How a Nigerian-American conned upwards of $40 million from banks during the housing boom using publicly available information from the internet, persuasive storytelling, and prepaid cellphones, and then ditched his FBI tail in a casino.

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A Remote Town in Romania Becomes Cybercrime Central

A trip to Râmnicu Vâlcea, a town of 120,000 where the primary (and lucrative) industry is Internet scams.

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The Forger's Story

Searching for (and easily finding) Mark Augustus Landis, the man behind the “longest, strangest forgery spree the American art world has known.”

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The Runaway Doctor

He called himself “TheNoseDoctor” and performed sinus surgeries, many of them unnecessary, at a maniacal clip. When the whole thing fell apart, he left behind his yacht and family, and disappeared into the Alps.

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What I Learned from My Father, The Grifter

“My father didn’t believe in things that were a reminder of the past because he had never had things in the past, and, more important, he had never had a past—not a past that mattered, that should be passed on to me, his son.”

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How I Became a Con Artist

A lifetime worth of little scams adds up.

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Trailers are for Travelers

How an aging trio of Irish ‘travelers’ criss-crossed America in a mobile home conning Home Depot out of over $1 million.

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A 20th-Century Master Scam

How a London con man turned a struggling painter into a master forger, sold more than 200 fakes, and exposed the art industry as its own worst enemy.

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The Follieri Charade

Raffaello Follieri was young, handsome. He was Italian. He was dating Anne Hathaway, hobnobbing with Bill Clinton, and using contacts at the Vatican to launch a lucrative business in the States. Then he was in jail.

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The Inkjet Counterfeiter

Albert Talton started with some recycled newsprint and a cheap printer from Staples. By the end, he’d put more than $7 million into circulation.

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Poor Little Rich Girls

Two sisters, heirs to the Bronfman fortune, may have blown $100 million supporting the cult-like group NXIVM.

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TV’s Crowning Moment of Awesome

How a card-counting former meteorologist from Las Vegas made the first perfect Showcase bid in the 38-year history of The Price Is Right.

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The Man in the Rockefeller Suit

When Clark Rockefeller snatched his daughter during a custody dispute, what the D.A. called “the longest con I’ve seen in my professional career” came unraveled, and the trail led to bones buried in a California backyard.

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The World’s Greatest Con Man

Helg Sgarbi had perfected the art of seducing, swindling, and blackmailing ultra-rich women across Europe. Fleecing a billionaire BMW heiress should have been the crowning achievement of his career.