There are a lot of metals that on the surface look similar to gold. Centuries ago, people discovered that unscrupulous operators would take advantage of this to trick people into paying for worthless metal. In order to determine whether gold was genuine or not, scientists devised an “acid test.” The item that is supposed to be gold is rubbed on a black stone, leaving a mark behind. Gold is what is called a noble metal, meaning that it is resistant to the corrosive effects of acid. If the mark is washed away by the acid, then the metal is not real gold.
In 1993, four executives from a Florida rental car company were convicted and jailed for defrauding their customers. Using what con artists have long referred to as a “salami technique” (you slice off tiny pieces in hopes that no one will notice and that those little pieces will build up to a large amount of money over time), they cheated at least 47,000 customers over a four-year period. They had modified the computer billing software to overstate the size of the gas tanks on the cars.
When Diana Valencia was arrested in Texas on drug charges in September of 2008, there was little doubt regarding her guilt. Anyone caught with two kilos of cocaine is going to have difficulty explaining that away as an innocent mistake. However she came up with a novel attempt at getting off—she and her sister decided to bribe the judge who would be hearing her case to make sure she got off. The plan might have worked, since the judge was willing to take the money—except the FBI got involved.
In the long history of con artists, George C. Parker holds a special place of dishonor. He is remembered as one of the most successful and daring swindlers in American history. He set up an office in New York City and “sold” some of the city’s most famous attractions to tourists. His favorite was the Brooklyn Bridge, but he also sold the Statue of Liberty, Madison Square Garden, and Grant’s Tomb. He produced elaborately forged documents and deeds to convince his targets that he was the rightful owner of the landmarks he was selling.
Just five days after accepting the position as head coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team in December of 2001, George O’Leary resigned in disgrace. An investigation had revealed that more than twenty years before he had included false claims on his resume, including saying that he had lettered in football when he was not even on the team and that he had a master’s degree which he had not earned. The lies had not been discovered at any of his previous coaching jobs, but the high profile accorded the position of coach at Notre Dame led to his exposure.
An elderly carpenter was ready to retire. He told his contractor of his plans to leave the house-building business and live a more leisurely life with his wife enjoying his extended family. The contractor was sorry to see his good worker go and asked if he could build just one more house as a personal favor. The carpenter agreed, but in time it was easy to see that his heart was not in his work. He resorted to shoddy workmanship and used inferior materials. It was an unfortunate way to end his career.
The story is told of four high school boys who couldn’t resist the temptation to skip morning classes. Each had been smitten with a bad case of spring fever. After lunch they showed up at school and reported to the teacher that their car had a flat tire. Much to their relief, she smiled and said, “Well, you missed a quiz this morning, so take your seats and get out a pencil and paper.” Still smiling, she waited as they settled down and got ready for her questions.
Then she said, “First question—which tire was flat?”
Thomas Martin is the former manager of a Jack-in-the-Box restaurant in Oroville, California. He reported a robbery in which the crook took $307 as the store was closing. When questioned about the suspect, Martin provided police sketch artist Jack Lee with a detailed description of the assailant. After Lee completed his sketch, he observed how the drawing looked just like Martin. When investigators noted the similarity, Martin confessed to the crime.