How a scammer effortlessly sold the Eiffel Tower twice | by Shenbaga Lakshmi | Jul 2022
Just follow the 10 commandments written by the world’s sweetest scammer
Victor Lustig was an Austro-Hungarian man from the early 1900s. He was born and raised in a modest family that could not afford much. His parents wanted him to become an influential person who could change their lives. But he had other plans.
Lustig has always been a bright child. He had A’s, spoke several languages and his teachers loved him. He was that perfect student from your school yearbooks.
But that wasn’t all Lustig. He was more than a typical nerd.
Lustig was also popular among students. He flirted with girls, relaxed with boys, and led a very relaxed life.
Until the day when everything changed.
One day at school, Lustig got into trouble.
He would have seen a child doing something fishy and confronted him. One thing led to another, they got into a huge fight.
The fight got out of hand and Lustig was badly beaten.
The incident affected Lustig so much that his main character changed. Suddenly he started steal from the greedy to survive. He perfected every trick in the book and became a world-class criminal.
Then one day he packed his bags and ran off to become a con man.
Lustig spent several years at sea sailing on ocean linerssipping cocktails and assessing his target.
The configuration was something like this:
The ship is in the middle of the Atlantic Sea.
Lustig is sitting on the deck, sipping a drink. He sees a beautiful woman with expensive clothes and jewelry.
To know its true value, it decides to play a game.
Lustig gently trips the woman. Feigning innocence and shock, he apologizes.
Striking up a conversation, Lustig offers to take the woman and her family to dinner. He fakes fandom and says great things about them.
The family, flattered by his flattery, begin to talk, or rather brag, about his plans, goals, and wealth. Some wanted to be on Broadway showsand Lustig fed on their desires.
This is also where Lustig takes the next step in his game.
He would agree to ‘Too good to be truebogus deals and contracts to milk the money out of these families.
This arrangement worked out pretty well for Lustig. He made a lot of money by scamming people all over the world.
But then came an obstacle: the First World War.
The war brought sanctions that stopped transatlantic ships. Lustig could find no more victims and he was forced to change his plan.
But Lustig was brilliant. He had complete confidence in his abilities: to find gullible Americans who would believe everything he said.
Lustig presented a large box to unsuspecting people.
Nicknamed ‘The Romanian box“, Lustig claimed that when you put a hundred dollar bill in the box, you can go home with double the amount six hours later.
Today it may seem funny and outrageous, but back then hundreds of people fell for this scam.
Including the sheriff of Texas.
After hearing about this fascinating machine, the sheriff had big plans. He wanted to do six figures per year.
Lustig sold the machine to the sheriff for several thousand dollars.
But before the sheriff realized the machine was bogus, Lustig was already on the other side of the country.
But the sheriff wasn’t going to give up.
He chased Lustig to Chicago, found him, and demanded a working counterfeit. He yelled at Lustig for selling him a defective one.
Yes, even then the sheriff did not realize he was getting scammed.
Lustig, seizing the opportunity, looked shocked and offended. He blamed the sheriff for not misusing the machine.
To prove his point, Lustig started using technical jargon. He took another device and pulled counterfeit bills out of a secret compartment.
Seeing Lustig “earning” money, the sheriff sincerely believed it was his mistake. He apologized and left.
But the police caught the sheriff using counterfeit money, and Lustig was on the police watch list.
Around the same time, Lustig became acquainted with Al Caponeone of the most wanted American gangsters of the early 1900s.
Capone gave him $50,000 start a scheme for him.
Lustig used the money in his lucrative scam and won a ton of money.
But, instead of giving Capone his part, he apologized to him that the scheme didn’t work. And to get into Capone’s good books, he even returned some of the money.
Moved by Lustig’s honesty, Capone reward him with $1,000. He didn’t suspect an iota of dishonesty in him.
It was the power of the nicest trickster in the world.
In 1925, Lustig had a light bulb moment.
He comes across a newspaper article about the Eiffel Tower.
Forty years after its erection, the Eiffel Tower needed major repairs. The repairs were so extensive and expensive that many argued the government should scrap the tower and sell it for scrap.
“But who would buy them?”
Lustig had just the answer – his gullible people.
Stage 1 of the plan
Soon, Lustig arranged a meeting with five scrap metal dealers and introduced himself as a government employee.
He asked the leaders to be careful about the information shared. Since the whole matter was controversial, Lustig insisted on the agenda of the meeting remain confidential until a public announcement is made.
All this secrecy and muted tones piqued men’s interest in the piece.
Then, he declared boldly,
“We are selling the Eiffel Tower to one of you – the 7,000 tons.”
Stage 2 of the con
Lustig’s plan was super basic.
He would ask dealers to offer on the tower. Then he would collect the money from the highest bidder and run away.
Yet to maximize his profits, Lustig played a game.
He silently analyzed the men and potential targets identified, preferably men with a burning desire to reach the top. They are the ones who are ready to do anything and everything for an opportunity.
The chosen one was Andre Poisson.
Lustig nonchalantly struck up conversations with Poisson to build rapport. Like how he did it with his maritime casualties.
A few days later he invited Poisson to a private meeting.
After the usual formal talks, he dropped the bombshell:
Lustig told Fish that his the bid was too low, and another person outbids them. He also pointed out that he was doing Pisces a favor because he didn’t want Pisces to lose.
Poisson, fearing losing the warrant, immediately upped the offer. He also understood that Lustig was asking for a bribe and amused him.
In the end, Lustig made a fortune of 2 million Swiss francs from the deal, more than $30 million in today’s valuation.
While Poisson eventually discovered the scam, he was too ashamed go to the police. He bore his losses and moved on.
Brilliant fuck, right?
In America, Lustig once again got into the counterfeit business, and this time things went wrong.
A slight misstep triggered an avalanche and the police caught Lustig.
He was in serious trouble.
While the police were fairly sure of his role in various scams, they found a rather strange key in his possession.
Lustig claimed the key was for a secret locker in his safe house, but police knew he was lying. From their experience, they knew that scammers used unsuspecting places to store their wealth.
So the police dug a little deeper and found a locker in the Times Square Subway. Lustig’s secret hideout was anonymous, easily accessible, and guarded.
In this box, the police recovered counterfeit money worth $51,000 which he had used in the Romanian box.
The police had enough evidence against Lustig, and he was sent to jail During a very long time.
But the police still caught him.
Before Lustig’s death, he published the 10 commandments for would-be scammers:
- Be patient with the listening (it is that, to speak slowly, which makes that a swindler has his blows).
- Never look bored.
- Wait for the other person to reveal their political views, then agree with them.
- Let the other person reveal their religious views, then hold the same.
- Hint at a sexual conversation, but don’t follow up unless the other person shows a keen interest.
- Never discuss the disease unless a particular concern is expressed.
- Never delve into a person’s personal situation (they will eventually tell you everything).
- Never brag. Just let your importance be quietly evident.
- Never be messy.
- Never get drunk.
Victor Lustig was indeed the the sweetest crook this earth has never seen.