Most philosophies would have you believe that humans are innately good. Left to our devices, we all sort of lean into what is right, which gives rise to the notion that good and right are universal concepts. But then along comes someone who ruins the whole idea because they seem kind of like utter scumbags, just ripping off people for their own benefit in the most questionable ways possible. Scams so bizarre there’s no way they should work and yet, somehow, they do.
10. The Melon Drop Scam
What would you do if you were walking down a crowded street and accidentally bumped a stranger, causing them to drop their precious melon? Would you say sorry? Maybe give them a few bucks for their melon? Well, then this scam isn’t for you because this scam can bilk people for $60 or more a pop. Melon pop, that is.
In a busy city like New York, you’re going to get a lot of tourists from places like Japan. And in Japan, a watermelon can set you back a heck of a lot more money than it will in New York. Scammers know this so when they identify some Japanese tourists, they’ll purposely get in the way, get bumped, and drop the melon. The very remorseful and apologetic tourist will offer to pay for the melon and scammers get maybe 10 times what it’s worth or more.
If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, feel free to call them out on it. Or call a cop.
9. Cruise Line’s Fraud Art Scams
Art scams seem a little high brow for the average person on the street. How often are you buying a new painting, anyway? Of course, if you’re not on the street, it must be a little easier to pull off since it seems to keep happening when people are out at sea.
A gallery called Park West based out of Detroit has been sued more than once by art buyers who, while on cruises in international waters, were taken in by fake art auctions. Back in 2009, 10 customers accused them of this. These auctions apparently generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for cruise lines every year, which is split between them and the galleries that supply the art. The problem is, some of the art is fake. Somehow, people are sucked into believing their cruise line secured a genuine Picasso or Dali.
Since 2008, the company has faced 21 lawsuits. Among the accusations are that the cruise line and gallery pressure and lie to buyers while simultaneously wining and dining them to pull off the scam.
8. The Bomb Detector Scam
Some scams are a little more scummy than others. Overcharging for a melon is one thing, but doing something that can result in people dying takes it to a new level. That’s what got scammer James McCormick sent to prison for 10 years.
McCormick was running a con job in Iraq. He had been selling bomb detectors to various governments and agencies for huge money. Some went for as little as £5000 and once, he even scammed his way to £500,000 for one. But they weren’t real bomb detectors. They were modified versions of a device called the Gopher, which was designed to retrieve golf balls. And he sold 5,000 of them to Iraq for £53 million. No one has total figures on sales, but it may have been as much as £100 million.
The devices had been outed years earlier as fake in the US, but the creator moved to the UK where McCormick got involved. And they were discovered to be useless fakes by more than one agency there as well, but no one did anything about it. They were just boxes with lights and antennas that were connected to nothing and performed no function at all.
McCormick’s scam resulted in multiple people dying and many more being sent to prison by corrupt officials.
7. The Car-Straddling Bus from China
Back in 2016, the internet was briefly enamored with a story out of China about an elevated bus. The bus was designed to relieve traffic congestion by allowing cars to actually drive right under it. The bus was elevated on narrow side supports, but the center was clear and big enough for cars to pass under as they went about their business. No more getting stuck waiting for people to get on and off the bus, right? Well, not exactly.
The bus really did exist, but there was a problem with it. After it was demonstrated rolling up and down one stretch of road several times, it didn’t do much else. And the days began to pass, and that bus didn’t go anywhere. It had been abandoned in the middle of the road. But people could still drive under it, so it wasn’t that bad.
Turns out that the entire project was a fundraising scam. Thirty people were arrested in relation to the scam that was getting money for investors for a project that was apparently never intended to get off the ground, so to speak.
6. The Chocolate Weight Loss Scam
Do you remember the chocolate diet? You can still find articles online from 2015 that celebrate the news that chocolate can help you lose weight. Some articles were updated, and some had the wording changed after the fact when it turned out the whole thing was a scam. But not a malicious one.
The story was unleashed by a journalist named John Bohannon. He crafted the fake story to prove a point about how easily health and nutrition news gets spread with no critical thought or analysis behind it. No one checks to see if the news is real.
The study was actually a real one in which 16 participants ate a low-carb diet and also a daily chocolate bar. But the methodology was intentionally terrible. The group was too small and too many factors were included which could have marred the results. It was bad science, but none of the media outlets that printed their stories cared.
5. The Brooklyn Bridge Scam
This may be one of the most famous scams ever and it’s still bizarre to think anyone ever fell for it. George Parker was the man who sold the Brooklyn Bridge. Again and again. He also sold the Statue of Liberty, Grant’s Tomb and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The man was really good at what he did. Some of his victims tried to put up toll barriers to make money from their new purchase.
At some point, Paker managed to get as much as $50,000 out of his buyers, a considerable chunk of change in the late 1800s. Other times, he settled for as little as $75. He used counterfeit deeds to sell his fake properties and, by some estimates, he may have sold that bridge twice a year for 40 years. He was charged with fraud in 1908 but stole a cop’s hat and coat and walked out of the building scot free. It wouldn’t be until 1928 when he was finally sent to Sing Sing, where he died 8 years later.
4. The Scam Impotence Cure
Medical scams are always harrowing because the outcome is rarely pleasant. That’s definitely the case of Dr. John Brinkley, who wasn’t actually a doctor at all. But he did achieve fame because he offered a cure for impotence back in the 1920s and 30s when nothing else was getting the job done. Unfortunately, his scam solution wasn’t anything as harmless as an invigorating tonic. The man was sewing goat testicles into his human patients.
Believe it or not, goat testicles don’t cure impotence. But they did make Brinkley a millionaire, and he started his own Mexican radio station as a result. The surgery “worked” in so far as he transplanted the goat testicles and sealed them in there. They would be destroyed as foreign matter by the patient’s own immune system over time. It’s doubtful anyone experienced increased virility, of course, because the surgery was nonsense. Unsurprisingly, he was also sued numerous times for malpractice.
3. A Chinese University Scam
Scam schools are not a new concept. Trump University is one of the most famous examples, and many other places will sell you a fake diploma online. But this scam from China played out in a really bizarre way since the school wasn’t fake, and the students weren’t fake. It was just that one had nothing to do with the other.
As part of a fake diploma scandal, at least 68 students thought they were enrolled in Shandong Institute of Light Industry for the equivalent of about $1,200 a year. They attended classes, did all their work and just before they were set to graduate, they learned that none of them were actually enrolled. That’s four entire years of schooling, incidentally. The school was not involved, just some dude and his accomplices who showed up to teach these students every day for four years in rooms no one was using.
2. Cremation Diamonds Are a Scam
Have you ever seen an ad for turning the cremains of a loved one into a diamond as a way to remember them forever? There are many companies offering the service. The problem is, it’s all a scam. The idea is cremation remains are carbon, diamonds are carbon, a lab made diamond can be produced from the remains. But experts say that cremation remains contain an impossibly small amount of material from which to make a diamond. More needs to be added, so there’s no way to know what the diamond’s composition is.
Companies charge more for their fake diamonds than natural diamonds of the same size, and there’s no guarantee any of your loved ones’ remains are anywhere inside.
1. Gregor MacGregor’s Scam Country
We’ve seen some pretty large scale scams here that managed to work despite sounding a little questionable. Now it’s time to give credit to Gregor MacGregor for pulling off perhaps the most unbelievable scam of all. The man made up an entire country and got people to believe in it.
Back in 1822, MacGregor lived in England and was the son of a banker and a former military man. Or was he? He began to spread word that he was actually a prince from the land of Poyais. You know Poyais, right? Right down there near Honduras, you can’t miss it provided you don’t look at any maps because it’s not a real place.
MacGregor had been given eight million acres of the Mosquito Coast Territory in modern Honduras and Nicaragua by its king. The land was his, but it was still under the control of the government. But investments in South America were experiencing a boom at the time from British elites who had no idea what they were doing.
MacGregor created a whole fake country, complete with a flag and even a book to dupe wealthy investors. He made the equivalent of millions selling off land, which people believed would prosper and see a return on investment. Hundreds packed up everything to move there.But there was nothing at all waiting for them. Fewer than one third returned to England alive. Five more ships had to be stopped before their passengers set sail.
For his part, MacGregor fled to France and tried the same scam again. He was arrested and fled again, winding up in Caracas, where he spent the rest of his days.