By Chaitra Somasundar, Staff Writer
If you were reading about the atrociousness of the Panama Papers and the billions of dollars hidden, there is one simple thing you understand about scams: they work! In spite of how insane they seem to be, people have fallen into these traps – to the extent of a “sale” of the world’s most noted monuments! Here is a short list of such unbelievable incidents.
Eiffel Tower: Sold!
One of the cleverest con artists of all time, Victor Lusting carried out scams worldwide and is today famous as “the man who sold the Eiffel Tower twice”. The idea of selling the Eiffel Tower came to him one day when he read an article in the newspaper about the struggles the Government was going through in maintaining the tower. Lustig then invited six scrap metal dealers to one of the classiest hotels in Paris at the time – Hotel de Crillon – posing as a government official. He said that the Eiffel Tower was impossible to maintain and that the officials had decided to sell it for the metal. He asked for the matter to be kept secret due to “public furor.” He then took them in his rented limousine to the Eiffel Tower in order to fix his target. Andre Poisson, striving to be in the inner circles of the business community, fell into his trap and bought the Eiffel Tower. In no time, Lustig’s assistants were on a train with a bag of cash! Poisson was too embarrassed to lodge an official complaint and just about a month later Victor was back and set to make his second sale! His next victim though, was cautious and went to the police. Victor still managed to evade arrest and escaped. It was not until 1935 that he was arrested.
Brooklyn Bridge: Sold!
If you were surprised about the two-time sale of Eiffel Tower, meet George C. Parker – the man who sold everything from the Grant’s Tomb to the Brooklyn Bridge twice every week! Known for the phrase “and if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you,” Parker was one of the smoothest con artists in history. His major targets were tourists and immigrants arriving to New York from Ellis Island. He bribed the men working on the boats that ferried these people into the city to befriend his targets. They then spoke about the landmark sale happening in the city, tempting his victims into buying a life-size souvenir. Parker would later take over, posing as the man unable to maintain such a huge monument. He forged documents stating his ownership of these landmarks and sold the Brooklyn Bridge to people stating that they could make plenty of money by setting up their own toll booths on the bridge. It was only when the New York Police stopped them from setting up booths to charge the incoming and outgoing traffic that they realized what they had gotten into!
Parker was eventually arrested three times and was sentenced to life in Sing Sing. It is rumored that prisoners and even the guards enjoyed listening to his notorious stories of selling almost every monument in the city.
The Taj Mahal: Sold!
Mithilesh Kumar Srivastava, infamously known as Mr. Natwarlal in India, was a lawyer who became a con artist when he recognized his ability to forge signatures flawlessly. Also known as the “master of disguises” and disguised and cheated foreigners and sold historical monuments such as the Red Fort, the Taj Mahal and even the Indian Parliament, including its 545 members! He managed to con some of the biggest businessmen in the country by posing as a social worker in need of capital for helping the needy. Posing as a Government official with forged documents, he sold the Taj Mahal thrice to foreigners. He was arrested and was sentenced to 113 total years in prison, but he managed to escape almost every single time and only served his sentence for about 20 years. His last escape was at the age of 84 and his death is a matter of dispute, making him the man who conned everyone, even in death.