“The Count” has arrived
His name was Count Victor Lustig. This is one of those cons that people refuse to believe happened, but it did, and it still operates to this day. A cautionary tale about an audacious and seemingly ridiculous con game that demonstrates how a con artist spins his web of lies.
The Wonderfully Profitable Counting Game Victor Lustig was the Houdini of con artists, as well as Leonardo da Vinci. He was an expert swindler.
Among his dubious achievements was the successful sale of the Eiffel Tower (twice), but after this “con man’s coup de grace,” Victor fled into hiding. Among his other dubious accomplishments was the successful sale of the Louvre. He stayed out of the spotlight until he came up with an absurd and impossible idea: a machine that could replicate money. He then stepped forward.
Lustig’s machine was a self-designed mechanism that used a top-secret chemical technique to extract ink from any banknote and transfer it to a piece of blank paper of the same size. A bill could be copied after eight hours in the machine, increasing the owner’s money by a factor of two.
Lustig hired a carpenter in New York to build these contraptions, and once completed, he took them on the road in search of the perfect sucker.
The First Part: Proving the Fraud
When Victor finally found a fish, he used a number of devious ploys to gain their trust. In the course of a bookie scam, he once stole a wealthy gambler’s pocket and returned it to the victim with all of its contents intact. As a result, Lustig was able to break the ice and begin planting the seeds of his con, giving him the “in” he required.
When it came to the Magic Money MachineTM, he used the same strategies and frequently engineered a scenario in which the mark would come across his machine and be curious about how it worked.
Victor would eventually give in to a demonstration and ask his ecstatic target to lend him a bill with a large denomination in order to prove his point. Lustig inserted the money into a small slot on one of the box’s sides, cranked a crank to pull the note into the mechanism, engaged a lever, and then checked his watch.
He told them that the process would take six hours, and most of the time, the mark would gladly agree to spend that time eating or playing cards instead of waiting in Lustig’s hotel room. The Count would join them while his magical box worked its magic while they were out having fun. They didn’t even bother keeping an eye on the box or making sure no one else entered the room and tampered with it!
Mugshot of Count Victor Lustig from the 1920s
Upon their return, Victor and his mark would open the box’s drawer (which had previously been seen to be empty), and within they would find two flawless bills worth $1,000 each. Following that, the mark would accompany Lustig to the bank to verify that both bills were genuine; however, because both bills had the same serial number, they would have to cash the bills separately (a beautiful touch accomplished by erasing the last digit on two consecutive bills).
Now that The Count was back in the black, he invited the mark to dinner, where they both played cards while waiting for the inevitable question: “how much for the box?”
The Second Part: Closing the Deal
It is natural that a box of this type is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find due to the high cost of production, the high value of its components, and so on. Apart from that, it would be impossible to quantify the value of the box’s purpose because it has the potential to earn an apparently infinite amount of money. Because the Count was willing to make another box for himself while also selling this one, a price was discussed and agreed upon.
Naturally, the price was exorbitant, not least because there were a couple of thousand-dollar bills stashed within, ensuring that the new owner could clearly repeat the procedure once Lustig took to his heels. Anyone would agree that the six-hour delay was a brilliant move.
It not only gave Victor’s story credibility, but it also meant he had at least twenty-four hours to flee town before his mark was left with an empty and worthless wooden box. Because the machine could only duplicate one bill at a time, the con would be revealed as soon as the bills Lustig had pre-loaded in the machine were ejected.
The Third Part: The Automatic Blow-Off I’ll say again in other articles, so remember it now: one of the primary reasons con artists continue to operate around the world is that victims are reluctant to admit they’ve been duped. In other words, con artists can make money because con victims are unwilling to admit they have been duped.
People who fell victim to Lustig’s deception almost never reported it or contacted authorities
Count Victor Lustig had a foolproof get-out-of-jail-free card in the form of the Magic Money MachineTM ready for his victims. And if you’re thinking, “Only a fool would believe this,” try imagining yourself in their shoes and imagining how it must feel.
If Lustig chose the right target, they would not only fall for his con, but they would also never admit to being duped by him. Lustig’s success hinged on selecting the right mark.
A significant number of con games rely on the victims’ shame or reluctance to reveal that they have been duped. Jilted lovers who have been duped by low-life lotharios frequently believe that long-gone sweethearts are returning (or dead), rather than admitting that it was all a ruse to get their money. This is due to the fact that admitting the lie was the only way to move on from the experience.
The majority of Lustig’s victims returned home to nurse their wounds, while The Count continued to sell boxes to unsuspecting gamblers and businesses.
In fact, he accomplished this by successfully selling Paris’ most famous monument on two separate occasions. Because the first group of victims, of which there were several, did not report the crime, Lustig bought a plane ticket back to Paris, found another mark, and preyed on them once more. He wasn’t always blessed with such good fortune.
The Victims Of Victor
One of Victor’s former victims decided to track him down and bring him to justice after purchasing one of The Count’s boxes. This victim pursued Victor across the country. That mark was a Texas sheriff who had tracked Victor all the way to Chicago before apprehending him.
The Count was unfazed by the confrontation and convinced the sheriff that he was simply not operating the box correctly. He then returned the sheriff’s money to him in counterfeit cash, prompting the Secret Service to arrest him. Lustig died while in custody after his unsuccessful attempt to flee the facility.
If you want to, you can roll your eyes. You’re not that stupid to fall for a con like this, are you? I’m willing to bet that you’re mistaken, and that if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, someone is currently playing a con game with your name on it.
For the time being, I’ll just say this: I’ve pulled this scam (with my own machine) on the Real Hustle, and even when it didn’t work, potential targets were desperate for it to be true. I don’t say this to brag or anything. The most recent iteration of this con does not involve the use of a magical item; rather, it is based on a compelling and persuasive story, and it features its own distinct style of magic show to demonstrate that the story is authentic. More on this will be covered in a later article.
“If it looks too good to be true, it probably is,” as the saying goes, and I’m sure you’ve heard it before. However, many other people around the world have been taken advantage of by con artists. The question that needs to be answered is why people continue to fall for such obvious con games.
No matter who a person is or how intelligent they believe they are, they are always vulnerable to being duped. Con artists select their victims using time-tested techniques that eliminate people who are likely to cause trouble and zero in on the one crucial aspect that makes each of us vulnerable to being duped by a con; this is the one nugget of knowledge that a con artist may use to trick a potential victim.