Courtesy of David R.
In 1872, veteran prospectors Philip Arnold and John Slack
bought $35,000 worth of diamonds in Europe and scattered them
on land in Wyoming. They managed to convince the Bank of San
Francisco they had discovered a diamond field and made
Starting in 1921, Oscar Merril Hartzell began a scam selling
fake shares in the estate of Sir Francis Drake. He contacted
as many families as he could find with the surname Drake and
was eventually accused of defrauding 270,000 people. The hoax
netted him over $2,000,000.
When J. Bam Morrison arrived at Wetumka, Oklahoma in 1950,
he claimed to be the advance publicity man for Bohn's United
Circus, which, he maintained, was due to hit town in three
weeks. He allegedly sold advertising space to local traders...
for a circus that didn't exist.
By forging signatures, James Addison Reavis was able to claim
he was the legal owner of 17,000 square miles of Arizona. The
enterprise raked in $300,000 a year until he was arrested in
1895 and he was sentenced to six years in prison.
Joseph Weill, who inspired the movie "The Sting," rented
abandoned banks and convinced businessmen that he had set up a
genuine bank. He waited for them to deposit large sums of money
before shutting down and moving on to the next town. This,
plus some of his other scams, earned him over $6,000,000.