Some recommendations of books and movies about scammers that offer a useful insight into the criminal mind: Internet Scambusters #383
We may read a scam book or watch a movie about scammers to be entertained, but they also help us understand the way these crooks think and operate.
In this week's lighter issue, we focus on some of the most notable scam books and movies across the years.
In particular, the world of investment scams has captured the imagination of creative minds. But there's more...
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Time to get going...
Scam Book and Movie Favorites Teach Us a Valuable Lesson
It's time for a lighter touch this week, with a look at some true or not-so-true stories featured in a bestselling scam book or movie.
Although they may be mainly for entertainment, scam books and scam movies actually have a lot to teach us about the criminal mind, when crooks set out to con us out of our money, or even just to give the perpetrator a good time.
They show how easy it is to be taken in by a silver-tongued con artist and how clever tricksters can be in inventing plausible stories. We can even learn some valuable lessons as we're entertained.
Investment Scam Books and Movies
You might think that with the flood of books about arch Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff (more than a dozen documentary DVDs, scores of books and a movie, apparently called Madoff's Inferno, in the making) that this was a relatively new big-time genre. But of course it isn't.
In fact, an early silent stock market scam movie, called A Safe Investment, appeared in 1915. Unfortunately, the scammer's main victim turns out to be his wife, who falls for his fraudulent scheme. (Hope we didn't spoil the plot - but you're unlikely to see it!)
Another early movie was The Toast of New York, based on the real story of a 1930s scam artist Jim Fisk, a 19th century financier known as "Diamond Jim," famous for his shady business dealings. There's a good book about Fisk, too -- The Gold Ring by Kenneth D. Ackerman.
Boiler Room (1980) exposes the high-intensity crime of cheap-stock, pump and dump investment scams to the big screen. Definitely worth seeing.
Look out, too, for a potential blockbuster in a similar vein: The Wolf Of Wall Street, based on the book of the same name by self-confessed "boiler room" broker Jordan Belfort. Directed by Martin Scorsese, the movie will star Leonardo DiCaprio.
But probably the biggest and most memorable box office scam movie hit was Oliver Stone's fictional Wall Street (1987), starring Michael Douglas -- so big in fact that the movie's anti-hero Gordon Gekko is about to make a comeback in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.
Of course, there are thousands of scam books about investment, most of them eye-opening biographical exposes -- like Den of Thieves by James B. Stewart (covering the Wall Street insider trading scandal of the 1980s) -- or tough-talking, no-nonsense advice books, such as How to Smell A Rat: The Five Signs of Financial Fraud by Ken Fisher and Lara W. Hoffmans.
But there's also some great fiction out there, starting with Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street, by Herman Melville, which the author wrote because he was worried about the lack of interest in his previous book, Moby Dick.
One novelist who turned the investment scam book into a best-selling genre almost of his own was Paul Erdman, who died in 2007.
A former Swiss banker (though he was born in Canada and lived most of his life in California), Erdman provided an insider's view of the dirty side of the investment world in such masterpieces as The Silver Bears (a movie starring Michael Caine), The Set-up and The Panic of '89.
For more straight-talk about investment scams and safe investing, check out the Scambusters Files.
Scam Books and Movies About Con Artists
In the wider world of the con artist, the Amazon bookstore lists more than 100,000 books dealing with the subject, again mostly nonfiction.
Best-sellers include How to Become a Professional Con Artist by ex-cop Dennis Marlock.
Read recently and recommended by Scambuster Keith, this book covers well-known scams like the pigeon drop, the Jamaican switch (where the victim is asked to put up "good faith" money before being handed a worthless bundle that appears to be cash), bank-examiner schemes (passing money to a bogus corrupt teller), three-card monte and fortune-telling.
Speaking of which, for a close-up look at scammers who use seeing the future as a platform for crime, ex-reporter Peter Huston delivers an interesting read with Scams From the Great Beyond, and More Scams for the Great Beyond.
Another recommendation from Keith is The King of Sting: The Amazing True Story of a Modern American Outlaw by Craig Glazer and Sal Manna.
Glazer was a sort of vigilante scammer who, posing as a law enforcement officer, targeted drugs dealers. The book, which reads more like a fiction thriller, was only recently published and the film of the book is due out next year.
Probably the best-known scam book and movie of contemporary times was the story of conman Frank Abagnale, who authored The Art of the Steal and Catch Me If You Can (subsequently a blockbuster movie with Leo DiCaprio).
The film, which grossed $164 million, holds the top slot in the scam movie charts. Number 2 is Mel Gibson's Maverick, and Number 3 is 21 -- the movie based on a true story about a group of college students who were trained to count casino playing cards.
Staying in the movie world, Paul Newman and Robert Redford produced an outstanding pair of scam movie hits with Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid and then The Sting. (There was also The Sting II with Jackie Gleason and Mac Davis.)
Also vying for our movie honors are the comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (with Steve Martin and Michael Caine as the conmen) and Matchstick Men with Nicholas Cage as the neurotic con artist who himself becomes a victim.
Look out too for the soon to be released The Con Artist, with, among others, Donald Sutherland and his son Rossif, respectively as a crime boss and his henchman, in a mixed up world of auto theft and art.
These scam books and movies are just a small sampling of what we think are among the best offerings in the world of confidence tricksters -- though you may have your own favorites. And we may return to the subject for another look in the future.
Meanwhile, and finally, if you're looking for an interesting all-round read and a wry smile, try this scam book: Schmucks!: Our Favorite Fakes, Frauds, Lowlifes, Liars, the Armed and Dangerous, and Good Guys Gone Bad, by Raoul Felder and Jackie Mason.
That's a wrap for this issue. Wishing you a great week!