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The Art of Deception: Five infamous fraudsters who fooled the masses

Deep down, everyone wants to live a lavish lifestyle, right? No more worrying about money. Enjoying the finer things in life. Treating your loved ones to everything they’ve ever wanted and more. But how far would you be willing to go to get there? 

For the great grifters of our time, the law was certainly no object. These high-profile fraudsters made their fortune by deceiving investors, conning the public and living large off the profits. However, their malignant misdeeds eventually caught up with them.

To mark the 10th anniversary of the UK release of The Wolf of Wall Street, which chronicles Jordan Belfort’s journey from small-time salesman to convicted criminal, the commercial finance experts at Anglo Scottish Finance are taking a look at five of the biggest fraudsters of all time…

Jordan Belfort 

It’s impossible to talk about the world’s most high-profile scam artists without talking about Jordan Belfort. Immortalised on the big screen by Leonardo DiCaprio, Belfort’s life was a whirlwind of parties, drugs and ill-gotten gains. 

His firm Stratton Oakmont, founded in 1989, saw Belfort and his team running “pump-and-dump” schemes to defraud investors to the tune of roughly £158m ($200m). As part of these schemes, Belfort and up to 1,000 stockbrokers working under him, would give investors false promises or information to artificially inflate the price of a stock before selling at a high price. 

Once Belfort and his team sold their stocks the price would fall and his investors would lose their money. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) eventually caught up with him, however, and he had to repay £86m ($110m) to his victims and serve four years in prison. 

Charles Ponzi

Ever heard of a Ponzi scheme? Charles Ponzi might not have invented this type of financial fraud, but he was so successful that the scheme came to be closely linked to his name. Ponzi, an Italian swindler born in 1882, was responsible for scamming investors out of over £15m (over £243m in today’s money). 

A Ponzi scheme refers to paying off previous investors with money sourced from new investors, creating a continuous cycle with no legitimate funds coming in. Ponzi was eventually caught out – the Boston Post wrote a series of articles exposing his fraudulent activities and he was eventually sentenced to five years in prison. He was later readmitted to serve a further seven years for a range of charges. 

Jho Low 

Malaysian businessman and fugitive Jho Low is considered one of the biggest scam artists in modern times. He is currently on the run from Malaysian authorities after a scheme to embezzle £3.56bn ($4.5bn) from the state-owned wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) into his own account. 

Low was at the centre of the international scandal, with payments from US bank Goldman Sachs diverted into offshore accounts and seemingly used for investment companies, superyachts and glitzy parties. 

Choice elements of his high-profile social life included associations with Paris Hilton, Jamie Foxx and Busta Rhymes, amongst others. DiCaprio was another A-list friend and in a bizarre set of full-circle circumstances, Low invested £79m ($100m) in the production of The Wolf of Wall Street.

Low remains on the run from the Malaysian authorities and is supposedly hiding in China. The Chinese government has denied harbouring Low, who maintains that the charges against him are politically motivated. 

Bernie Madoff 

Meet the man behind the largest Ponzi scheme in history. Bernie Madoff was responsible for conning his investors out of an unbelievable £51 billion ($65 billion), making him perhaps the most profitable scam artist in history. Hiding a shady asset management business behind a legitimate trading arm allowed Madoff to hide in plain sight for years.  

Madoff was so well-known and respected that he was, at one point, the Chairman of the NASDAQ Stock Exchange. His eponymous firm, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, served as a vehicle to defraud investors for many years. 

As the 2008 financial crash began to come to light, Madoff realised he was stuck: he was unable to pay back investors even a portion of what they were owed. He informed his sons, who had both been working under him, that the business was a lie. They subsequently turned him in and Madoff had the book thrown at him. 

He received the maximum sentence of 150 years in 2009 and eventually died in prison in 2021. 


Exotic watches, fast cars, charter flights and helicopters. Pretty exciting for a boy who started as a second-hand clothes seller in Lagos, right? Nigerian hustler Hushpuppi established a lavish Instagram lifestyle that flamboyantly displayed his rags-to-riches story, but he was eventually found to be behind a huge phishing scam and money laundering operation. 

Hushpuppi was a ‘key player’ in an international scam network that obtained money illegally via “business email compromise scams, online bank heists and other cyber-enabled fraud.” Perhaps most notably, he was accused of conspiring to steal £97 million ($124 million) from an unnamed Premier League club. Neither the Premier League nor the club involved decided to comment. 

The scammer was arrested in Dubai in 2020 and expedited to the US to face trial for his misdeeds. One scam shut down payment systems across Malta as he tried to launder £10m ($13m) stolen by North Korean hackers. He received a prison sentence of eleven years in 2022. 

So, if there’s anything that you can learn from the five highest-profile fraudsters of all time, it’s that crime doesn’t pay. All of these scammers lived a lavish lifestyle thanks to their crimes but were ultimately forced to pay the piper. As ever, with a Ponzi scheme, or any other kind of financial crime, your luck will eventually run out.