Famous scams and hoaxes

Most Americans are decent, law abiding citizens but we loved to hear about successful scams and hoaxes. We can feel superior. We would never fall for something like that, but in truth virtually everybody has been scammed at one time or another, including this columnist.

Scams and hoaxes are essential in wartime covert operations. British intelligence conducted two elaborate hoaxes that saved thousands of Allied soldiers in WWII.

After the Allies drove the Germans out of North Africa, their next target was Sicily. Churchill authorized "Operation Mincemeat." British intelligence had identified a Spanish spy working for Germany in a fishing village. They planted documents on a corpse who had died of pneumonia, which replicated drowning, then had a submarine drop the body off the Spanish coast where it would wash ashore. The spy photographed the material for Berlin. They identified Sardinia as the next target. Churchill dryly remarked "they swallowed Mincemeat whole." German units were reassigned from Sicily to defend Sardinia.

The most complex hoax of WWII was designed to fool the Germans into believing the D Day landing in Normandy was a decoy while the major attack would come later at Pas de Calais. To sell the scam, a phantom army of inflated rubber tanks and trucks was created in Southeastern England. German intelligence believed the Allies had 60 divisions. Actually, they had only 35. Nazi generals held their reserves awaiting the second landing while Eisenhower established a beachhead.

Not all hoaxes served such noble causes. In 1835 a reported on the New York "Sun" concocted a scam that earned him a fortune. Remember, there was no trans-Atlantic cable at that time. There was a two month delay of news from Europe. Reporter Richard Adams Locke took advantage of this gap,

He wrote a series of articles that life had been discovered on the moon. The source was world famous astronomer Sir John Hershel. He had built a giant telescope and observed human-like inhabitants, about four feet high, with hairy bodies and wings. Locke peppered his stories with sketches and scientific terminology. Even the rival New York "Times " was fooled. A ladies group in Springfield, Massachusetts began to collect funds to send missionaries to convert the Moon people.

The hoax collapsed when Sir John learned about it. The "Sun" fired Locke but he had already made $25,000 by printing and selling a pamphlet of his columns.

Legendary P.T. Barnum was half showman, half con man. In 1882 he introduced the word jumbo into our language by purchasing a giant African elephant from the London Zoo. Barnum touted Jumbo as "the largest elephant in the world." When interest in Jumbo waned, he introduced "Toung Taloung," a sacred white elephant. She was an ordinary elephant. Barnum painted her white and never paraded her in the rain.

At lest one great American family fortune was started by a con man. a famous snake oil salesman, William "Doc" Rockefeller sold packages of oils and herbs that supposedly cured cancer. His son. John D. Rockefeller, changed the family business from snake oil to Standard Oil and became the richest man in America. In 1899 a New Orleans chef created Oysters Rockefeller in his honor.


24 fresh oysters

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 — tablespoon minced onion

1 — cup cooked spinach, chopped

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1/2 cup melted butter.

PREPARATION: Cut oysters from shell, wash shells and return oyster to deepest half. Mix parsley and onion with some butter, drizzle over oysters. Season with salt, pepper and paprika. Top each oyster with 2 teaspoons bread spinach, teaspoon bread crumbs and remaining butter, Place in pan of rock salt to prevent tipping. Bake at 450 degrees for l0 minutes.

Share This Story