Known as the biggest scam of all time, in 1925, Victor Lustig was sitting in his hotel room in Paris reading about the Eiffel Tower. The huge structure had been built during the Paris World’s Fair in 1889 and was actually meant to be dismantled in 1909. But due to it being such a great radio tower, they decided to keep it up.
This was because it was extremely useful for listening to the Germans during the First World War. However, since it had never been built for longevity it was now rusting and in need of major repairs. These repairs were looking to be extremely expensive, and the article that Lustig was reading, indicated that the State was finding it hard to locate the money needed to repair the damage.
At this time the French government was deciding if it might not be better to simply sell the tower. And that is when Victor realized what he needed to do: he would sell the Eiffel tower. It did not really matter that it was not his, that was just a little detail. Now he had his next project insights, he started to set in motion the scam of the century.
He printed out some stationary to make it seem like he worked at the Department of Post, which was the government’s department that dealt with all the public buildings. And then he secured a fake ID, the idea was to sell the Eiffel tower to an iron salvage company. He gave an amazing presentation and even made the companies believe that due to dismantling the Eiffel tower would be a controversial action for the general public: they had to keep it a secret.
This allowed him to dupe one of the salvage companies into paying him 100,000 Francs for the rights to dismantle the Eiffel tower. And as soon as he received the money, he was on a train for Vienna, out of France. He was sure the scam would be in the news, but it never was – the scrap company was so embarrassed that they never reported the scam!
So Lustig returned to Paris to repeat the same scam with another company, only this time they did a bit more due diligence and reported him to the police. Still, Lustig was able to escape capture and ended up in the United States, where it is said he even once conned Al Capone.