ACFE's Fraud Museum
The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners has built up a choice collection of fraud souvenirs under founder and chairman Dr. Joseph T. Wells. Here are some of the most notable pieces.
Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff liked to give his clients cigar boxes as a token of appreciation for their business. It also made a nice souvenir of him, until they learned they had lost a fortune at his hands. He has been serving a 150-year sentence for fraud since 2009. His brother Peter pleaded guilty in June 2012 to tax fraud and securities fraud.
The energy-trading company collapsed in 2002 in a massive accounting fraud that helped bring down its auditing firm Arthur Andersen. Certificates of stock in the once high-flying company effectively became worthless, except as memorabilia.
Even before email spam started hitting inboxes, Nigerian fraudsters could send their schemes through good old-fashioned air mail promising fortunes to gullible recipients.
Investors were falling prey to schemes way back in the 18th century. The most notable was the South Sea Bubble, which was perpetrated by the South Sea Company and nearly bankrupted England. The company proposed a scheme in 1719 to take on the country's entire debt in exchange for government bonds. The stock soared before it eventually collapsed, ruining the fortunes of several members of Parliament.
Before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was established in 1906, "patent medicines" were widely sold and advertised as curing all manner of afflictions. Orangeine Powder claimed to be used for "the relief of simple headache, simple neuralgia and the discomforts arising from head colds." The main ingredient was acetanilid, which is used now to stabilize varnishes, and can cause severe liver and kidney damage and heart failure. The one ingredient missing from Orangeine was oranges.
This warranty deed from 1887 was part of the Florida land boom. Unscrupulous companies often sold worthless tracts of swamp land to unsuspecting victims, who would buy the lots sight unseen. The St. Andrews Bay Railroad, Land & Mining Co. of Ohio sold thousands of lots in "St. Andrews Bay," which is now known as Panama City, Fla.
Ivan Kreuger, nicknamed "The Swedish Match King," swindled legions of investors in the early 20th century through shell companies, embezzlement, debt transfers to subsidiaries and the counterfeiting of $142 million in Italian bonds. He committed suicide in 1932 when his schemes began to unravel, writing a note that said, "I'm too tired to continue."
Composer William Arms Fisher published and distributed this flyer to warn about a scam he called a "musical fraud" in which victims would be led to believe that their song, poem, books or other invention had great merit. The fraudster would collect a fee for falsely claiming to promote or publish the work. Fisher warned, "Amateurs with the song-writing impulse should know that high-class music publishers never charge for publication."
The unnamed defendant in this bench summons dated Sept. 8, 1854 was charged with the crime of "defrauding a poor sailor named Anthony Ecabut out of the sum of 2 dollars by selling him a brass plated watch which was not worth more than 25cts and thereby defrauding same Anthony." The document was issued by no less than the Mayor of Boston, the Chief of Police and six other officials. The scoundrel was also accused of standing on the corner without a license and "thereby blocking up highways."
After her husband and second-born son died, Lady Henrietta Tichborne went in search of her first-born son Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne, who had been lost at sea while en route from South America to New York. She offered a reward of 5,000 pounds in 1865 for information on his whereabouts. Australian con artist Thomas Castro successfully posed as her son until her death in 1868. Rather than allow him to inherit her estate, the family embarked upon the longest-running and most expensive legal action in British history at the time until Castro ultimately lost his claim.
This 1997 book by "consumer watchdog" Brett Champion was actually written by convicted fraudster Steven Comisar. In between stays in prison, he wrote the book in which he promised never to break the law again. However, after publishing the book, he was sent back to prison for the third time after swindling an elderly man out of $100,000 in an investment fraud. In the book, he described various mail order, telephone and catalog scams. Before returning to the Graybar Hotel, he agreed to film a video for a training course for the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners on investment swindles and con schemes. He will be eligible for parole in 2018.