January 4 is the day Victor Lustig, one of the most notable scammers of all time, was born in 1890 – as far as we know, anyway.
Lustig had dozens of aliases, and spun so many tales that it’s hard to be sure even about his basic life details.
A lot of his scams would trick people into investigating in fake Broadway shows or fake real estate.
He also had a counterfeit money machine that he said used radium to copy currency.
Some of his other schemes were complex, and even dangerous.
Lustig once swindled gangster Al Capone out of $50,000, then returned the money and apologized.
Capone then gave him a $1,000 reward, which was Lustig’s plan all along.
His most famous scheme was in Paris, where he posed as a government agent with secret knowledge that the Eiffel Tower would be torn down and he was willing to accept, well, bribes from those who wanted the scrap metal.
Lustig not only made a small fortune from the scheme, his mark was too embarrassed to come forward to the police about it.
After living well off the proceeds for a time out of the country, Lustig came back to Paris and pulled the same stunt again!
He was eventually caught by the U.S. Secret Service and spent his final years in prison, though one agent did grudgingly admit to him before sentencing: “Count, you’re the smoothest con man that ever lived.”
Need a way to relax in these challenging times?
Try the soundscapes of Swiss artist Zimoun.
His ambient sounds come from pieces of cardboard, strings, sticks, little metal washers, all helped along by tiny (and quiet) electric motors.
The Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower. Twice. (Smithsonian)
Smooth Operator: How Victor Lustig Sold The Eiffel Tower (Mental Floss)
Sound Sculptures (Nag on the Lake)
Lustig photo from a 1935 newspaper, via Wikicommons