The Big Con

Great Hoaxes, Frauds, Grifts, and Swindles in American History

by Nate Hendley


From patent medicines to modern online scams, people have always wanted to believe.

Print Flyer
Cover image for The Big Con

September 2016


Pages 380
Volumes 1
Size 7x10
Topics American History/Law and Crime

This book examines a broad range of infamous scams, cons, swindles, and hoaxes throughout American history—and considers why human gullibility continues in an age of easy access to information.

Covering American cons and hoaxes past and present, including the Great Moon Hoax of 1835, the controversy over "subliminal messaging" (do bands, filmmakers, and advertisers really put secret messages in their works?), the panic about "satanic" daycare operators in the 1980s, and recent Internet scams, this book provides a fascinating, fact-based look at infamous frauds across the centuries. Offering an engaging mix of history, sociology, and psychology, author Nate Hendley gives readers an appreciation of how prominent scams, cons, "confidence men," and hoaxes have impacted American society, past and present.

Each entry details the scheme or hoax and the pertinent con artist/schemer involved, examining the sociological, cultural, political, and/or economic effect of the scams. Each topic is accompanied by a short bibliography of further reading selections. As the old saying goes, "There is a sucker born every minute"—and there has always been a keen-eyed swindler to take advantage of the situation. The Big Con: Great Hoaxes, Frauds, Grifts, and Swindles in American History explores this sordid underbelly of American civilization and invites readers to revel in the felonious experience.


  • Explores figures such as "Yellow Kid" Weil, Charles Ponzi, Orson Welles, and Frank Abagnale, among others
  • Provides insight into human nature—gullibility being one aspect of it—throughout the ages, addresses the power of rumor and legend, and identifies the social conditions that have allowed some scams and hoaxes to flourish
  • Presents information that can serve academic research projects as well as fascinate and entertain general readers
  • Features the original stories behind the Hollywood movies The Sting, Catch Me If You Can, Argo, and American Hustle
Author Info

Nate Hendley is a freelance writer and author. He has written several books, primarily in the true-crime genre. His published work includes Greenwood's The Mafia: A Guide to an American Subculture; American Gangsters, Then and Now: An Encyclopedia; and Bonnie and Clyde: A Biography. His website is



"Serious students and general readers alike will marvel at fraudsters' ingenuity and cringe at human gullibility (sometimes fed by greed). Consider for all public libraries."Library Journal

"The Big Con is a big book, almost 400 pages, and as such, it is very authoritative, making it a great reference book to have for those who enjoy reading true crime, crime fiction, or who are born skeptics and get a certain 'kick' out reading how easily people can be fooled. . . . Very readable The Big Con is one of those books that you can pick up and start reading anywhere. There is an extensive bibliography at the back for further reading suggestions. Mr Hendley has done sceptics a genuine courtesy by assembling the history of frauds, cons, scams and hoaxes into one beautiful volume. . . . [T]his book is perfect reading for the casual reader, true crime/fiction aficionado, and sceptic."The Miramichi Reader

"[A] good overview and resource for public and academic libraries aimed at all levels of beginning students. Summing Up: Recommended. High school, community college, and undergraduate students; general readers."Choice

"For a comprehensive guide to how the likes of Clem, Lehwess, and other slick-talkers operate, check out The Big Con: Great Hoaxes, Frauds, Grifts, and Swindles in American History. . . . [E]ntertaining and informative."Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine

In the News

Vanity Fair, Hoaxes and Cons, 10/23/2019

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