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Posts Tagged ‘scam

“It’s morally wrong to allow a sucker to keep his money”*…

Rachel Browne with the telling story of how a Montreal copywriter swindled victims out of $200 million by pretending to be a legendary psychic…

Patrice Runner was sixteen years old, in ­Montreal in the 1980s, when he came across a series of advertisements in magazines and newspapers that enchanted him. It was the language of the ads, the spare use of words and the emotionality of simple phrases, that drew him in. Some ads offered new products and gadgets, like microscopes and wristwatches; some ­offered services or guides on weight loss, memory improvement, and speed reading. Others advertised something less tangible and more alluring—the promise of great riches or a future foretold.

“The wisest man I ever knew,” one particularly memorable ad read, “told me something I never forgot: ‘Most people are too busy earning a living to make any money.’” The ad, which began appearing in newspapers across North America in 1973, was written by self-help author Joe Karbo, who vowed to share his secret—no education, capital, luck, talent, youth, or experience required—to fabulous wealth. All he asked was for people to mail in $10 and they’d receive his book and his secret. “What does it require? ­Belief.” The ad was titled “The Lazy Man’s Way to Riches,” and it helped sell nearly 3 million copies of Karbo’s book.

This power of provocative copywriting enthralled Runner, who, in time, turned an adolescent fascination into a career and a multi-million-dollar business. Now fifty-seven, Runner spent most of his life at the helm of several prolific mail-order businesses primarily based out of Montreal. Through ads in print media and unsolicited direct mail, he sold self-help guides, weight-loss schemes, and, most infamously, the services of a world-famous psychic named Maria Duval. “If you’ve got a special bottle of bubbly that you’ve been saving for celebrating great news, then now’s the time to open it,” read one nine-page letter that his business mailed to thousands of people. Under a headshot of Duval, it noted she had “more than 40 years of accurate and verifiable predictions.” The letter promised “sweeping changes and improvements in your life” in “exactly 27 days.” The recipients were urged to reply and enclose a cheque or money order for $50 to receive a “mysterious talisman with the power to attract LUCK and MONEY” as well as a “Guide to My New Life” that included winning lottery numbers.

More than a million people in Canada and the United States were captivated enough to mail money in exchange for various psychic services. Some people, though, eventually began to question whether they were truly corresponding with a legendary psychic and felt they had been cheated. In 2020, after being pursued by law enforcement for years, Runner was arrested in Spain and extradited to the US on eighteen counts, including mail fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering, for orchestrating one of the biggest mail-order scams in North American history…

Read on: “The Greatest Scam Ever Written,” from @rp_browne in @thewalrus.

* W. C. Fields


As we tread carefully, we might spare a thought for Meyer Harris “Mickey” Cohen; he died on this date in 1976. After a career as a boxer, Cohen joined the mob, moving around the country and rising through the ranks until he was a close associate of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel in Los Angeles. In 1950, Cohen was investigated along with many other underworld figures by a U.S. Senate committee known as the Kefauver Commission. As a result, Cohen was convicted of tax evasion in June 1951, and sentenced four years in prison.

On his release in 1955, Cohen became an international celebrity. He ran floral shops, paint stores, nightclubs, casinos, gas stations, a men’s haberdashery– he even drove an ice cream van on San Vicente Boulevard in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles. In 1957, TIME magazine wrote a brief article about Cohen’s meeting with Christian evangelist Billy Graham. Cohen said: “I am very high on the Christian way of life. Billy came up, and before we had food he said—What do you call it, that thing they say before food? Grace? Yeah, grace. Then we talked a lot about Christianity and stuff.” Allegedly when Cohen did not change his lifestyle, he was confronted by Christian acquaintances. His response: “Christian football players, Christian cowboys, Christian politicians; why not a Christian gangster?”

In 1961, Cohen was again convicted of tax evasion and sent to Alcatraz. He was the only prisoner ever bailed out of Alcatraz– his bond signed by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren. After his appeals failed, Cohen was sent to a federal prison in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1972, Cohen was released from the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, where he had spoken out against prison abuse. He had been misdiagnosed with an ulcer, which turned out to be stomach cancer. After undergoing surgery, he continued touring the United States and made television appearances, once with Ramsey Clark.

Cohen’s 1961 mugshot (source)

“When I consider Life, ’tis all a cheat”*…




Sarah Howe’s early life is mostly a mystery. There are no surviving photographs or sketches of her, so it’s impossible to know what she looked like. She may, at one point, have been married, but by 1877 she was single and working as a fortune-teller in Boston. It was a time of boom and invention in the United States. The country was rebuilding after the Civil War, industrial development was starting to take off, and immigration and urbanization were both increasing steadily. Money was flowing freely (to white people anyway), and men and women alike were putting that money into the nation’s burgeoning banks. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, and in 1879 Thomas Edison created the lightbulb. In between those innovations, Sarah Howe opened the Ladies’ Deposit Company, a bank run by women, for women.

The company’s mission was simple: help white women gain access to the booming world of banking. The bank only accepted deposits from so-called “unprotected females,” women who did not have a husband or guardian handling their money. These women were largely overlooked by banks who saw them — and their smaller pots of money — as a waste of time. In return for their investment, Howe promised incredible results: an 8 percent interest rate…

All told, the Ladies Deposit would gather at least $250,000 from 800 women — although historians think far more women were involved. Some estimate that Howe collected more like $500,000, the equivalent of about $13 million today…

Then, in 1880, it all came crashing down. On September 25, 1880, the Boston Daily Advertiser began a series of stories that exposed Howe’s bank as a fraud. Her 8 percent returns were too good to be true. Howe was operating what we now know as a Ponzi scheme — 40 years before Ponzi would try his hand at it…

Rose Eveleth on the fascinating story of a 19th-century scammer, and what she can teach us about women, lying, and economic boom-and-bust cycles: “The No. 1 Ladies’ Defrauding Agency.”

* John Dryden, Aureng-Zebe


As we remind ourselves that what’s too good to be true usually isn’t, we might recall that it was on this date in 1946 that FBI agents arrested Chicago gangster George “Bugs” Moran in Kentucky.

During the Prohibition era, Moran was one of the biggest organized crime figures in America, and has been credited with popularizing the drive-by shooting. He was a rival to Al Capone, who gunned down seven members of Moran’s gang in the 1929 Saint Valentine’s Day massacre.

Unlike Capone, Moran wasn’t a clever crime boss. By 1946 he had been reduced to common crimes like bank heists. He was basically penniless. The FBI found him renting an upstairs apartment from a law-abiding couple in Henderson, Ky.  [source]

220px-Bugs_Moran source


Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 6, 2019 at 1:01 am

“When I consider Life, ’tis all a cheat; Yet, fooled with hope, men favour the deceit”*…


A picture, supposedly of Poyais, fabricated by Gregor MacGregor

In October 1822, Gregor MacGregor, a native of Glengyle, Scotland, made a striking announcement. He was, he said, not only a local banker’s son, but the Cazique, or prince, of the land of Poyais along Honduras’s Black River.

A little larger than Wales, the country was so fertile it could yield three maize harvests a year. The water, so pure and refreshing it could quench any thirst – and as if that weren’t enough, chunks of gold lined the riverbeds. The trees overflowed with fruit, and the forest teemed with game. Painting an exotic, Edenic vision of a new life abroad, his proposal offered quite the contrast with the rainy darkness and rocky soils of Scotland.

What Poyais lacked, he said, was willing investors and settlers to develop and leverage its resources to the fullest. At the time, investments in Central and South America were gaining in popularity, and Poyais appeared to be a particularly appealing proposition.

Scotland didn’t have any colonies of her own, after all. Could this not be a corner of the new world for her own use?…

MacGregor designed currency that was supposedly used in his fictional land

Gregor MacGregor’s massive fraud and how he brought it off: “The con-man who pulled off history’s most audacious scam” (excerpted from Maria Konnikova’s The Confidence Game).

* John Dryden


As we demur from accepting wooden nickels, we might recall that it was on this date in 1922 that Los Angles police were summoned to the home of silent film director William Desmond Taylor by a call about a “natural death” that had occurred the night before.  When they arrived they found actors, actresses, and studio executives rummaging through the director’s belongings… and Taylor lying dead on the living room floor with a bullet in his back.

Mary Miles Minter, a teenager, had become a star in Taylor’s films and had fallen in love with him– much to the dismay of her mother,  Charlotte Shelby.  After Taylor’s murder, a love note to Taylor from Minter was found in his home, along with her nightgown in the bedroom.  Then other damning facts came to light: Minter had once tried to shoot herself with the same type of gun used in Taylor’s murder; Shelby had previously threatened the life of another director who had made a pass at her daughter; and most portentously, Shelby’s alibi witness received suspiciously large sums of money after the murder.  Still, no one was ever prosecuted for Taylor’s death– the case remains officially unsolved.

Mary Miles Minter and William Desmond Taylor


Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 2, 2016 at 1:01 am

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