Some cons are diabolically clever. They seem almost too simple to work. The con of Tino DeAngelis falls into this category. His warehouse looked legitimate and the inspectors saw only what he wanted them to see. And so those inspectors (and his investors) believed DeAngelis had more than 100 tanks filled with soybean oil — when only a slender tube inside each tank contained oil. The rest of those tanks? They were filled with water.
On the other end of the spectrum are scams that are just plain dumb. These are the ones that make you shake your head. How on earth did anyone think this would work? And what about the people who fell for it — what were they thinking? These sorts of cons tend to fall apart pretty quickly. As an example, take Graham Halksworth. Halksworth and his partner-in-crime devised an incredibly complicated (and implausible) story to try and pass phony U.S. bonds. They said these bonds were issued in 1934 but had languished in a Philippine jungle for decades after a plane crash. So how come they were created on an ink-jet printer? What about all the typos?
Any Ponzi scheme is, well, short-sighted. It doesn’t matter what the con artist uses as fuel — maybe his influence in a particular community or an especially enticing pitch — sooner or later, he’ll run out of gas. There have been “robbing Peter to pay Paul” scams that have lasted for years. Bernie Madoff swung it for two decades. Another one of our 2010 inductees, Thomas Petters, spent 15 years stealing money from people all over the globe. Of course, in the end, the charm and intelligence of those gambler con artists who count on finding another victim isn’t worth much. All it takes is an economic tailspin and everyone starts paying close attention…and that’s the last thing a con artist needs….