There are white lies. There are bad lies. Then, there are profitable lies. Here, people share lies throughout history that they think were, ultimately, the most profitable.
Thanks to everyone who contributed. If you would like to read more stories like these, be sure to check out the source link at the end of this article. Comments have been edited for clarity.
Diamonds are rare.
That’s the biggest profitable lie ever told and a brilliant one to be honest.
One of the biggest assets in a married couple’s relationship, the diamond engagement ring, might be an emotional asset and a symbol of love and commitment.
The fact is that it is at least 50% worth less than what you pay for it. Including every single cost. So then, how come are diamonds seen as such costly and rare stones?
The credit goes to a brilliant advertiser called N.W Ayer.
A brilliant lie. A brilliant marketing strategy.
Diamonds haven’t been rare stones since 1870, because huge diamond mines were discovered in South Africa. Soon after the discovery, the British financiers behind the South African mining efforts realized the diamond market would be saturated if they didn’t do something about it. So in 1888, they set two audacious goals:
1- They monopolized the World Diamond trade. They succeeded by creating De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd. and taking full ownership and control of the world diamond trade.
2- Stabilizing the market. To succeed here, De Beers would have to figure out a way to control both supply and demand for diamonds worldwide. For this, they would need to find an ad agency. This was N.W Ayers.
The economy was at a very bad point in those days. What De Beers needed was to emotionally link people with diamonds.
So, how do they get more people to buy big diamonds in a bad economy?
N.W. Ayer’s game plan was to, “Create a situation where almost every person pledging marriage feels compelled to acquire a diamond engagement ring.”
And looking at today’s diamond market they were very successful in doing that.
Writing this, I feel the saying is true: This world of ours is built on a bunch of brilliant lies.
Ponzi, an Italian immigrant to the United States, became one of the most famous con men in American history. While many people do not know the name Ponzi, the Ponzi Scheme is extremely well known, and continues today in Internet Make Money Fast schemes. His early life is not entirely known as he was prone to fabricate stories about it. What is known is that he spent a short amount of time at University in Rome and, after dropping out, caught a boat to Boston, USA where he arrived with $2.50 in his pocket.
His early years in the United States were troublesome. He began working at a restaurant, but was soon fired for playing tricks with the bills and short changing customers. His next job was working in a bank in Canada that catered to Italian immigrants. His knowledge of numbers helped him to do very well there. Unfortunately, it turned out that the owner of the bank was stealing money from newly opened savings accounts to pay the interest on the interest bearing accounts and to cover bad investments. The bank owner eventually fled to Mexico and left Ponzi without a job. After writing a fraudulent cheque and spending a number of years in prison, Ponzi determined to become wealthy at any cost.
Once he had settled in to life on the outside, he discovered postal reply coupons through a letter that was sent to him from abroad. He realized that he could buy foreign coupons at massively devalued prices, (because of price fixing after the war), and then resell them in the United States for a 400%profit.
This was a form of arbitrage and it was legal. Ponzi began canvasses friends and acquaintances for money promising them a 50% return or a doubling of their money in 90 days. He started his own company, the Securities Exchange Company, to promote the scheme.
The word of this great investment quickly spread and before long Ponzi was living in a luxurious mansion. He was bringing in cash at a fantastic rate, but the simplest financial analysis showed that he wasnt making money, he was losing it rapidly. For every dollar he took in, he went more deeply into debt. As long as money kept flowing in, Ponzi would stay ahead of the eventual collapse.
People soon began to become suspicious and the press were starting to publish negative articles about him. Inevitably people were starting to demand their money. Shortly after, federal agents raided his office and shut it down. No stock of stamps was found and everyone that had invested their money with Ponzi lost every penny. It is probably that he lost tens of millions of dollars. Ponzi plead guilty of mail fraud and was sent to prison. After one escape, he was returned to jail to complete his sentence. He was eventually deported back to Italy and he died there in poverty in 1949.
The actions surrounding the production of leaded gasoline in the 20th century is a great example of profiting from deceit. This may not be the most profitable lie, but it has the bonus of damaging the atmosphere and poisoning workers.
In the early 20th century, most people knew lead was hazardous and, oddly enough, it was still used in an array of consumer products; canned goods were soldered with lead, water tanks were lined with it, and it was even sprayed on fruit as a pesticide. It wasn’t long before humans decided they needed to breathe it, too. Thomas Midgley Jr. made this possible in 1921 when he discovered the compound ‘tetraethyl lead’ reduced engine knock when added to gasoline. He then helped mislead the public in regards to health concerns and made lots of money in conjunction with General Motors, DuPont, and Standard Oil.
Ethyl Gasoline Corporation was a joint enterprise of these three monolithic American companies. They set out to make boat loads of cash and didn’t debate much in the means to that end. These clever moneymakers renamed the unhealthy gasoline additive ethyl because it sounded friendlier than lead and leaded (or ethyl) gasoline became all the rage in the automobile industry.
Factory workers felt the immediate effects of this new additive and soon exhibited signs of lead poisoning, as they wandered aimlessly about with confused looks. It is believed that at least fifteen workers died in the early days of production. As a large corporation tends to do, Ethyl Corp. began to calmly deny any harmful effects of their product, while untold workers became violently sick. Lead sickness comes in a variety of forms. In extreme cases, lead can irreparably damage the brain and central nervous system. It has been linked to blindness, convulsions, hearing loss, insomnia, kidney failure, and cancer.
The public relations campaign was led by Thomas Midgley Jr. himself, who reassured everyone that tetraethyl lead is perfectly safe. At a press conference he even poured it on his hands and huffed ethyl gasoline for the press while claiming he could do so every day. It took him a year to recover from lead poisoning.
An interesting side note: the innovative Thomas Midgley Jr. also happened to discover a use for chlorofluorocarbons, which were largely responsible for the annihilation of atmospheric ozone. After sixty three years of atmosphere filling sales of leaded gasoline, it was banned from sale in the United States in 1986. This is in large part due to the heroic activism of a little known scientist named Clair Patterson who is also the man who discovered the age of the Earth to be near 4.5 billion years. He found massive amounts of lead in the atmosphere when measuring the age of meteorites for this objective. Patterson endured underhanded efforts from the leaders of industry who used their lobbying power to interfere with Patterson’s career. Lead levels in the blood of Americans are believed to have dropped by up to 80% by the late 1990’s. Patterson is a hero indeed.
The most profitable lie told to Americans is that a universal health care system is bad for them and will hurt them through tax increases and worse service.
The truth is that this is propaganda by politicians and public relations firms bought and paid for by an extortionate health care system.
There is high quality data from the OECD that suggests that Americans have long been paying too much on every level, including total spending, public spending and private spending.
Lets look at this data and compare USA and France. I chose France because of its reputation for providing high quality health care, and because France is the pet hate of every Conservative.
The data on this website shows that per capita Americans pay almost twice as much for health care (USD 9,892) as the French (USD 4,600). The French pay less than half, (47 percent), of what the Americans do.
It is frequently asserted that shifting to government mandated health care would impose higher taxes on Americans. That is a lie. The OECD statistics show that government/compulsory spending in the US amounts USD 4,860 per capita. This is more than government/compulsory spending in France (USD 3,626).
Also, many Americans with private plans believe that they will lose out when shifting to government mandated health. This is also a lie. Regarding private spending. OECD statistics show that voluntary spending in the US amounts to USD 5,032 per capita. In France voluntary spending amounts to USD 974. The essence of this is that even Americans with private plans stand to gain.
As for the amount wasted in America in comparison with France: America spends USD 5.292 more per capita than the French. Note, however, that America has a population of about 325 million.
That means that American citizens collectively pay USD 1.7 trillion too much for health care.
This amount represents profit and gravy train for an extortionate health care sector, insurers, related services, its lobbyists, and politicians who are hungry for campaign contributions.
The amount above of USD 1.7 trillion dwarfs Pentagon and related spending, which by comparison totalled USD 598 billion (in FY2015).
The American health care system is number one – without equal or parallel worldwide – at deceiving and exploiting the American voters and taxpayers.
Americans should take a really hard look at the nature of their system of government and their politics and the degree to which their representatives are failing them. Why are American leaders refusing to use this data? Why is American media failing to report this to you? Why are health care advocates failing to make an effective case for reform? How corrupt is the American system?
White cultural superiority.
For centuries, cultural and scientific outlets promulgated the idea that white people were a naturally superior race than other colored peoples. This consisted of various lies as justification, ranging from Social Darwinism (the false idea that white people were, biologically, the fittest race) to the civilizing mission (the false idea that white society and culture were superior). But all of these explanations were really just excuses to plunder vulnerable nations.
And plunder, they did.
Almost all of the world was, at some point, under colonial rule.
Spain and Portugal conquered South and Central America, enslaving Native peoples in agriculture and mining. Britain claimed North America, much of Africa, and India, destroying local cultures in the process and creating huge markets for their industrial production. France controlled half of Africa at its peak. The U.S. had the Philippines; Belgium, the Congo; Denmark, Greenland; Russia, Northern Asia; the Netherlands, Indonesia.
Even the grey areas on the map, which represent lands never colonized, were often under the influence of European powers. Consider China, in which the Opium Wars allowed the British to exchange drugs for valuable goods. Or Iran, whose leadership in the 1900s was installed by the U.S. government.
Roberts’ fundraising was controversial. In January 1987, during a fundraising drive, Roberts announced to a television audience that unless he raised $8 million by that March, God would “call him home.”
However, the year before, on Easter, he had told a gathering at the Dallas Convention Center that God had instructed him to raise the money “by the end of the year” or he would die.
Regardless of this new March deadline and the fact that he was still $4.5 million short of his goal, some were fearful that he was referring to ending his own life, given the impassioned pleas and tears that accompanied his statement. He raised $9.1 million.
Later that year, he announced that God had raised the dead through his ministry.
Some of Roberts’ fundraising letters were written by Gene Ewing, who headed a business writing donation letters for other evangelicals such as Don Stewart and Robert Tilton.
Roberts maintained his love of finery and one obituary claimed that even when times became economically hard, “He continued to wear his Italian silk suits, diamond rings and gold bracelets—airbrushed out by his staff on publicity pictures.”
The master of lying for profit has got to Victor Lustig.
F those of you that dont know him, you are about to meet one of the greatest conmen who has ever lived. Well, I guess the good ones dont really get caught to become famous in the first place. Anyway, this guy was sneaky.
Victor Lustig was the king of deception and trickery. He was born in 1890 in what is now the Czech Republic. As a young man he studied languages. He also studied people: their habits, mannerisms, and especially their weaknesses, and decided to do something in that field instead. By the age of twenty he was a confirmed conman.
By the age of thirty he was a confirmed wanted man on the run from police in several European countries. Here are some of the cons that he pulled off. A list of lies, deception, and trickery that made this man a legend.
In 1922, Lustig went to Missouri and showed interest in an old farm that a bank had repossessed, but could not sell. Lustig wanted the farm. So he went to the bank who owned the farm and he gave a sob story of how his life of nobility in Austria was destroyed when the country was overthrown as a result of the first World War. He claimed to the bank that he had come to America to rebuild his life with what was left of the family fortune and chose a life farming.
He then offered the bankers $22,000 in bonds to buy the farm and the bank gladly accepted it. Lustig also convinced them to exchange an additional $10,000 of bonds for cash so that he can operate the farm. The bankers, again, gladly accepted. The trickery comes in when Lustig, at the time of the exchange, switched envelopes and made off with both the bonds and the cash.
Funny thing is that he didn’t bother to hide his escape, and when the bankers hired a private detective and got caught, he was cooperative. But, on the train ride with the captors, Lustig convinced them that if they did press charges, there would be a run on the bank by its depositors and the bank would go belly up. Lustig then managed to convince his captors that they should give him $1,000 for the inconvenience that the arrest had caused him. So he managed to twist the whole the story and walked away to freedom with their $1,000 in his picket. I think thats what you call smooth.
While in Montreal on business, Lustig decided to con a Vermont banker named Linus Merton. He arranged with a pick-pocket to steal Mertons pocket watch. And, he did. But, he wasnt satisfied and decided to give it back in 24 hours. But, that is exactly what he had in mind in the first place. By giving the pocket watch back, he had gained the trust of the banker.
He introduced Merton in on a scheme that he was using to earn money since the familys fortune had been confiscated during the revolution, yes, the same alias he used at the bank in his other con. Lustig claimed that his cousin worked at a bookie and was able to intercept the race wires, meaning that he could find out the winners to every horse race a few minutes before anyone else. He explained how it was a guaranteed win. Merton agreed to the tip, and in the process of the con, he announced that his wife was ill and they have to move as quickly as possible. The pressure made Merton to make one last bet, but Lustig gave him a wrong tip. This meant that Lustig had just taken $30,000 for a bet that Merton had made in a bookie joint that was a setup in the first place. Very cheeky.
This is Lustigs potentially most famous con as of today. In May 1925, Lustig travelled to Paris with another man named Collin, another con man. While in Paris, he began reading the papers and it was a consistent pattern of articles claiming that the Eiffel Tower was in need of repair and that the repair job was cost prohibitive. There was also a brief comment exploring the idea that it might even be cheaper to rip it down than to repair it.
If Lustig ever had a eureka moment, this would be it. He decided to sell the Eiffel Tower. Lustig had a counterfeiter create official government stationary and personally appointed himself to the official position of Deputy Director General of the Ministre de Postes et Tlgraphes. He then sent letters to five different scrap iron dealers. The letters where purposely written in a vague manner so that they would accept his invitation to meet him in a hotel suite to discuss a possible government contract.
After joking about with these men for a bit at the hotel, Lustig made the surprise announcement that the government was indeed scrapping the Eiffel town and whether they will be willing to make a bid on the scrap metal. Lustig went off and sold the Eiffel tower to a man named Poisson. The devious man drove of to Austria immediately after, with the money of the sale in his pocket. When there, he continuously checked the papers to find that the scam had come to light, but it never did. Poisson was too embarrassed to come forward with the news to the authorities.
Lustig saw that as an opportunity, and sold the Eiffel Tower again. Unfortunately, Lustig was dubbed to the authorities and there was no third sale of the tower.
These are some of the greatest cons known of him today.
Before his death, Lustig wrote down the ten-commandments for pulling the best cons.
- Be a patient listener (it is this, not fast talking that gets a con-man his coups).
- Never look bored.
- Wait for the other person to reveal any political opinions then agree with them.
- Let the mark reveal any religious views, then have the same ones.
- Never discuss illness, unless some special concern is shown.
- Never pry into a persons personal circumstances - they will tell you eventually.
- Hint at sex talk but don’t follow it up unless the other person shows strong interest.
- Never boast. Just let your importance be quietly obvious.
- Never be untidy.
- Never get drunk. Sorry guys.