When you look up the word “scam” in an online dictionary, you can find a couple of definitions. One most of us know is “a swindle, fraud or con.” To swindle is “to defraud or deceive.” Another definition of scam, however, is “information, ‘the scoop.’”
So when thinking about this post, I thought about not just those scams that actually were illegal, but also things that could be considered scams though they are perfectly legal – things that provide extra money to a company or entity with no real reason based in sound economic principles.
So keep in mind that when I put together this list, I am trying to have some fun with this and also trying to bring about some ways that people can and have made money by simple deception or trickery – even if it’s legal. If it’s something that results in someone paying more money than he or she should or it’s an entity that doesn’t do everything it’s supposed do, I am considering it a scam.
There are lots of opinions about what are truly the greatest “scams” of all time. And the lists are all different based on context and what definition of “scam” is being used. So naturally, I have to come up with my own list. Would love your comments as to what you think about this list, and what are your top scams?
Top 10 Scams Of All Time
10. Martha Stewart’s insider trading
Martha Stewart was already rich from her many media properties and her do-it-yourself home and garden activities. So it really didn’t make much sense why she would even get involved in a stock transaction to make even more money. But there she was, accepting some insider information about a stock that she owned from a friend of hers. And by acting on the tip she was able to make a hefty profit on the stock.
The Securities and Exchange Commission came down hard on her, and a court trial deemed her guilty of insider trading and she spent three years in a federal prison.
9. Stella Liebeck
Maybe you don’t know the name, but her lawsuit is legendary. Ms. Liebeck, a 79-year-old woman in New Mexico, spilled hot McDonald’s coffee in her lap and suffered burns. She sued McDonald’s and wound up winning not just her medical expenses, but she received about $500,000 in punitive damages. All because of her clumsiness.
She wound up being the queen of the frivolous lawsuit, because she actually won. Since then, McDonald’s did take steps to put a warning on its coffee cups, use more spill-proof lids and the precedent of the lawsuit changed the definition of a liable party. So maybe in this case, a scam was actually good.
8. Donald Trump
By the time his presidential campaign is over, he could find himself higher on this list. But here I am focusing on his business career. He has been an excellent marketer of his own brand, but he has gotten his money on the backs of taxpayers and by greasing the hands of politicians to get favorable treatment. He hasn’t released his tax returns yet, and there is speculation that he has other “scams” in those documents, such as his supposed charitable contributions have been much less than he has bragged.
His name got him a lot of free air time during the presidential campaign, which is money he hasn’t spent (which can be a scam in itself). Now he is facing a fraud trial over Trump University, which could be a couple hundred million dollars.
7. The Clinton Foundation
Word has it there is an investigation into the workings of the Clinton Foundation, which was set up as a charitable organization. However, various news outlets have done their research using public records and non-profit filings with the IRS and have found that a very small percentage of what the Foundation brings in is used for actual charitable endeavors.
The large majority of the money is devoted to overhead and to the Clinton family – Hillary, Bill and daughter Chelsea, which is scammy in itself.
6. Charles Ponzi
He was such a scam artist that there is a whole scheme named after him. In 1920, the originator of the Ponzi scheme was caught after bilking “investors” out of $20 million – translated to today’s dollars, it’s equivalent to more than $220 million.
The scheme was this: He would bring in investors to contribute to his “plan,” pocket some money and give the rest back to the “investors” as he got new investors to join in. Eventually, there were more people already invested than there were new investors, so there was nowhere for the money to go, and it eventually crumbled under its own weight. But not before Ponzi gained international renown.
Everyone remembers the “dot com” bubble that crashed at the turn of the 21st century. One of the catalysts was Enron, an energy company that was inflating its stock values as well as its books.
CEO Ken Lay was touting the company to investors and market analysts while his company was actually hemorrhaging money because of high risk games played by some who were selling stock and various energy batches. The company would artificially inflate energy prices though staging blackouts, and the company would skim the profits. Lay and several other top executives were jailed and the company – along with several others in its wake – was incinerated.
4. Jack Abramoff
Kevin Spacey played this role brilliantly in a movie, which exposed the dark side of influence in Washington. Abramoff was considered one of the foremost influence-peddlers in D.C., as a lobbyist who greased the palm of many a member of Congress to get certain laws passed or other regulations reversed for the benefit of his clients. It is he and many of his colleagues who have created the “Washington insider” mentality that has led mainstream voters to think that they are not being heard – that those with influence “inside the Beltway” are dictating policy.
What make colors a scam? Think about this: As you shop for certain items, do you notice that some items cost more in a different color than in others? Is that particular item different than the others? No, it just looks different.
The price can be explained away by “market forces” that say those colors cost more because they are more popular. But that only flies if the item has been out in the market for a while and there are decidedly fewer in stock. But many of these items start at the higher price- in anticipation?
Can you really anticipate the popularity of a color before it hits the market? I call “scam.” Or at least, “swindle.”
Those of you who do regular grocery shopping, have you noticed the last few years that some of your favorite food items seem to be getting smaller? This is an attempt to deceive by many companies. As the costs of making their food items – raw materials, labor, regulations, etc. – continue to rise, rather than rising the prices of the items, many food companies are keeping the prices the same but making the packaging smaller.
What was a 12-ounce bag of potato chips is now 10.5 ounces for the same price. A 12-ounce can of soda is now an 11.5-ounce can. What was a 2.5-ounce candy bar is now 2.2 ounces. You get the picture. You’re getting less for your money.
1. Brand names
It certainly pays to be a brand that is recognized nationally or globally. If you are an established brand, you can sell things for far more money than a smaller, lesser-known company for similar items. Comparison shop painkillers, clothing, food items, even smartphones. When you look at the specs of the items and compare them apples-to-apples, you will always find the brand name item costs more.
But how come, when the items are the same, have very similar production costs – and in fact, the bigger company probably produces the items for less than the smaller company by virtue of sheer volume? Yes, you are paying for the brand, as it were. Does the Ralph Lauren golf shirt feel that much better than the Macy’s brand golf shirt? Maybe, but twice-the-price better?
While some of these are not scams in the ways we typically think of scams, they are nonetheless not 100% ethical. Money is a powerful force and unfortunately some people treat it like a demi-god.
Don’t let money rule your life. Use it as a tool to help you achieve your dreams, but do so only in ethical ways.