10 Famous Con Artists

Here is a list of 10 famous con artists. Con artists are responsible for millions of dollars in losses for everyday people. They look for weak, trusting individuals and con their way to a fortune. Most con artists crumble under their overconfidence, but others get away, leaving broken innocents behind.

  1. Frank Abagnale. Abagnale is the subject of the Steven Spielberg film “Catch me if you Can.” Abagnale began his con artist career simply forging checks and deposit slips. However, he soon moved on to bigger and better things when he pretended to be a pilot and flew free around the world. Over time, he pretended to be a doctor, lawyer and teacher before authorities finally arrested him.
  2. Charles Ponzi.  Ponzi receives credit for the fact his name is synonymous with the most damaging con in modern America, the Ponzi scheme. The Italian immigrant spent time in prison for trying to smuggle illegal Italian immigrants into the U.S. When he got out of prison, he started his Ponzi scheme, swindling 17,000 people out of millions of dollars before authorities arrested him and charged him with 86 counts of fraud.
  3. Robert Hendy-Freegard.  Hendry-Freegard is a British con artist who pretended to be an MI5 agent. He fooled people into believing he was recruiting them into the MI5, swindled them out of their money and sent many into hiding for fear of a fictional IRA hit. He started conning people in 1992 and authorities finally arrested him in 2002.
  4. Thierry Tilly.  For ten years, con artist Tilly swindled a wealthy aristocratic family out of almost their entire family fortune of €4m. Under his spell, the family secluded themselves from the world, believing him to be a secret agent turned close confidant of the family. When authorities finally arrested the con artist in 2009, the once noble family was broken and almost ruined.
  5. David Hampton.  Will Smith played the con artist David Hampton in his breakout cinematic debut, “Six Degrees of Separation.” Hampton pretended to be the son of actor Sidney Poitier and convinced various people to give him places to live and money to live on. When finally caught, he served no jail time, but authorities forced him to repay everyone he conned.
  6. Christian Gerhartsreiter.  Many people probably wish they had been born a Rockefeller. Christian Gerhartsreiter simply pretended to be one. The con artist sealed his own fate when he kidnapped his own seven year-old daughter in 2008. Authorities arrested the man and discovered he was not who he claimed to be. On top of becoming a Rockefeller, Gerhartsreiter had been conning people for 30 years
  7. Joseph Weil. The Robert Redford/Paul Newman con artist movie “The Sting” remains one of the best of its genre. Joseph Weil, also known as “Yellow Kid,” stole over $8 million in his career, mostly from men he felt “had larceny” in their hearts.
  8. Victor Lustig.  Victor Lustig is the con artist that actually sold the Eiffel Tower. Lustig pretended to be a government official who offered to sell the Eiffel Tower for scrap. Local scrap dealers made bids on the project and Lustig found a winning bidder, sold the Tower and fled the country. When he was not arrested, he returned and tried the same con again, this time getting caught but escaping to the U.S. He eventually ran out of luck and U.S. authorities arrested him after one con too many.
  9. George Parker.  For many years, con artist George Parker sold Madison Square Garden, the Statue of Liberty, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and, most famously, the Brooklyn Bridge to tourists. Any time you hear the statement “I’ve got a bridge to sell you,” it is because of this famous con artist.
  10. Gregory MacGregor.  In 1820, MacGregor conned 250 British citizens into investing money to settle on the fictional Poyais Island in Central America. When the settlers arrived, they found a jungle and no environment to live in. By the time that they made their way back home, 180 of the investors died.
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