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Cons That Could Have Been April Fool’s Pranks

April Fools’ Day is the bane of the gullible; year after year we get burned by innocent lies, elaborate pranks and tomfoolery that make us look like slack-jawed morons. Fear not, my friends that still have a sliver of faith in humanity: these people were duped so hard that it makes us look like street-hardened wise-guys. Here are cons so outrageous they could’ve been April Fools’ pranks.

See also: Top 10 Easy Workplace Pranks

The Man That Made Up a Country and Then Sold It

Sure, it was the 1820s when there were no Google Maps, GPSs or location trackers, but come on, I’m sure they had a globe or, at best, a badly rendered map with sea serpents swimming in the Pacific. Well, they must have forgotten to put their order in at ‘Maps, Maps, Maps and Hair-pins’, because Gregor MacGregor (and that’s not even his con name) convinced a bunch of people to invest and even buy land on this small Latin American island. He even printed a guide to the island documenting its rich natural resources and geography. At some point, his investors wanted to see what they paid for, but the only thing they found was a big, fat nothing surrounded by a lot of Pacific Ocean. Once a prankster, always a prankster – even after he was arrested, he continued to sell land on his imaginary island.


Princess Caraboo of the Island Javasu

Wikimedia Commons

Seriously? Who the hell would fall for such an obviously fake name? Well, a lot of British dignitaries apparently, because it was the 1800s again and, apparently, people had barely functioning IQs back then. Found by a cobbler in a disorientated state wearing exotic clothes and speaking an incomprehensible language, the princess was taken in by the local elite. While with her gullible hosts, she swam naked, used swords, bows and arrows, and prayed to her god *sigh* Alla-Tallah. How did anyone not see this? Good grief.

The Scotsman That Dressed as a Chinese Man to Steal Tea Secrets

Yes, you read that correctly and, no, I didn’t have a stroke in the middle of writing that title. Again in the 1800s (what was wrong with people back then? It must have been the lack of pollution – just too much oxygen, there’s no other explanation), Great Britain was still buying the majority of their tea from China. Fat cats wanted to move operation to India where they could grow more tea, and pay less for it, making a higher profit margin. The thing was that those damn pesky consumers thought Chinese tea was of higher quality and those damn pesky Chinese would share their manufacturing methods with the Westerners, so the Westerners could put them out of business – go figure. Well, a company called the British East India Company (see: aforementioned fat cats) commissioned a Scottish botanist named Robert Fortune to go and ‘investigate’ (see: steal) Chinese tea producing methods. The thing is, Robert Fortune was very Scottish and being very Scottish disallowed you from going into certain areas of China, including where the ‘investigation’ (see: theft) was to take place. So, he did exactly what any other cartoon character would do and dressed like a Chinese person, and went to the place they made tea to ‘investigate’ (see: pilfer). He convinced people his strongly accented Scottish Chinese was a result of him being from a far-away province. He ultimately found out that Chinese tea’s deliciousness was a result of toxic dyes. Mmmmm, delectable toxic paints.

The Man That Sold the Eiffel Tower – Twice

This last entry is probably the ballsiest of the bunch, and this is a pretty ballsy batch of people. Known as the Count, Victor Lustig was a multilingual man of international intrigue that could charm the habit off of a nun. OK, that’s a little offensive, so let’s go with: he could charm the scales off a fish. Ah, much better. He ran various scams, but what he is most known for is the selling of the Eiffel Tower – twice. The Eiffel Tower was intended to be a temporary exhibition at the World’s Fair and with its conclusion the city was stiffed with maintenance, painting and upkeep of the now iconic structure. So, the Count thought he could convince a metal scrap dealer in Paris that the city wanted to sell the structure’s steel for scrap. Under the premise that he was a poor government employee that needed a little bit of ‘convincing’ to help them get the contract. So, not only did he score a down payment for the contract, he also got a little bit of a bribe. He finally made away with around $50.000 and even returned to do it again, but the next businessman he tried to scam turned him in to the police, but he got away before he was arrested. The hallmark of a great con artist is their ability to get away from people chasing them, just in case that lesson was lost on you.

Do you know of any other ridiculous yet successful scams in history? Then let me know in the comment section below.