To find success as a con artist, one must be fascinated with people, an astute listener, a careful observer, and a fantastic conversationalist. That is the gist of what Simon Lovell, former con man and writer of “How to Cheat at Everything: A Con Man Reveals the Secrets of the Esoteric Trade of Cheating, Scams, and Hustles” reveals. Of course, there is a lot more to it than meets the eye.
Victor Lustig, who is infamous for having faked the sale of the Eiffel Tower during the 20th Century, certainly had these talents that Lovell spoke of and then some. His idea for selling the Eiffel Tower for scrap metal came about after reading in the newspaper about the difficulty Paris was having in maintaining it and the expense involved. He quickly contacted a friend, who provided him with some very authentic-looking stationary. With this stationary, he composed letters and sent them to a handful of “scrap metal dealers,” inviting them to a meeting to discuss a business opportunity .
At this meeting, Lustig faked being someone of authority, the “Deputy Director General of the Ministère de Postes et Télégraphes,”—which is another con tactic that Lovell speaks about. Lustig informed them that he was responsible for securing one of them to help in the deconstruction effort because Paris could no longer afford the maintenance costs of the Eiffel Tower. They were “needed” (another con “hook”) to help out in this effort. Because of the public’s possible outrage of having the Eiffel Tower torn down, this meeting had to be kept confidential. (Secrecy is another tactic employed by con artists so their cover isn’t blown.) After the information session, four of the contractors submitted bids to Lustig. One was accepted, Andre Poisson’s, not because it was the highest but apparently because Poisson seemed to be the most gullible. In fact, at one point, there was some suspicion by Poisson’s wife of Lustig’s “opportunity,” so an additional meeting was arranged before the deal was secured. At this meeting, Lustig reassured Poisson of the outstanding deal that he was getting himself into, the need for secrecy, and even secured a bribe out of him, insisting that the humble life of a public servant does not pay well and that his lifestyle was difficult to maintain.
Poisson paid Lovell in full for the rights to the Eiffel Tower, without having checked Lustig’s credentials. Then, when he went to talk to city officials regarding the deconstruction process, he realized that they totally hadn’t a clue about what he was talking about and that he’d been taken. By then, Lustig was long gone! He went to Vienna with a friend, and they were living lavishly off Poisson’s money.
Some time had passed and having seen no reports of his crime in any news publications, Lustig decided to try his luck again at selling the Eiffel Tower. He chose another handful of metal dealers. However, his next victim turned him into the police before handing the money over. Somehow, Lustig was able to talk his way out of jail time and moved on to the next scheme.
One thing that Simon Lovell mentions that is a requirement for a con artist is an incredulous degree of confidence. Not only that, they must have a certain degree of detachment. While they may spend exorbitant amounts of time getting to know and befriending their victims, which involves divulging some of their own personal or made-up information, they can, at the drop of a hat, rob someone blind, skip town, and feel no remorse. Lovell even mentioned that he knew his days as a con artist were numbered when he half-heartedly gave back some of the money to a victim, who was in tears about not being able to pay bills and take care of his family.
Unfortunately for most victims, remorse felt by cons seems to be a rarity, and thus stories are reported throughout history of many populations being swindled. Lustig is just one of many in that respect. Deceiving individuals into believing his scheme of selling the Eiffel Tower for scrap metal, though, definitely earns him credit for having one of the cleverer and more conniving, cons in history.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/laurenmanning/2939213927/”>Lauren Manning</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>