3. Charles Ponzi
The man, the myth, the legend. This list wouldn’t be complete with the creator of one of the most lucrative cons known to man. So lucrative in fact it is still in practice now. Charlies Ponzi, born March 3, 1882, is more than your average snake oil salesman.
The Italian born con man began his money-making scheme as a swindler in the early 1920s in North America. His promise to clients was a 50% profit within 45 days, or 100% profit within 90 days, on any investment they made. He found a loophole where he could buy discounted postal stamps in other countries and redeem them for more money in the United States as a form of arbitrage. In reality, Ponzi was paying early investors using the investments of later investors, a practice now known as “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
His scheme successfully ran for over a year and is now known as “The Ponzi Scheme.” However, it eventually collapsed which cost investors $20 million.
He was sentenced to seventeen years in jail, later dying penniless and alone. Near his death he told a single reporter how he felt about the whole thing; “I had given them the best show that was ever staged…It was easily worth fifteen million bucks to watch me put the thing over.”