History’s Greatest Swindlers

Every era has had its Madoff.

By Spencer Bailey

FROM LEFT: KURT HUTTON/GETTY IMAGES (2); JANETTE PELLEGRINI/GETTY IMAGES

Pope Leo X

In the 16th century, Parker Leo X became a wealthy man selling indulgences. For a fee, one could expect to be absolved of sin. The scandal led in part to the Reformation.

George Parker

In the early 1900s, Parker used fake documents to “sell” New York landmarks such as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Statue of Liberty to gullible tourists.

Charles Ponzi

The Italian-born financier’s 1920s scheme: Buy up postal-reply coupons in countries with depreciated exchange rates and redeem them in the U.S. Profits for everyone!

Frank Abagnale, Jr.

In the 1960s, Abagnale passed $2.5 million in phony checks in every U.S. state and 26 countries. Along the way he impersonated a pilot, a sociology professor, a doctor, and an attorney.

Dennis Kozlowski

The former Tyco executive siphoned off more than $600 million from the company’s coffers. The money was used to support his lavish lifestyle. He checked into prison in 2005.

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