11 Most Devastating Scams And Frauds In U.S. History

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Prepare to be astonished and outraged as we delve into some of the most audacious scams and frauds in U.S. history. These high-stakes cons, characterized by deceit, cunning, and breathtaking audacity, have left a trail of financial devastation and disbelief in their wake.

From infamous Ponzi schemes to corporate deceptions that shook the nation, these scams reveal the dark underbelly of ambition and deception. Hold onto your wallets and get ready to uncover the shocking stories behind the top 11 biggest scams and frauds in American history.

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#1. Enron Scandal (2001):

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Details: Enron, once a leading energy company, used accounting loopholes to hide massive debts and inflate profits. They engaged in fraudulent financial reporting and misled investors.

Total Losses: Approximately $74 billion in market value was wiped out. Thousands of employees and investors lost their savings and jobs. It led to one of the largest bankruptcies in U.S. history.

#2. Bernie Madoff Ponzi Scheme (2008):

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Details: Bernie Madoff operated the largest Ponzi scheme in history, promising consistently high returns to investors. However, he used new investments to pay off earlier investors.

Total Losses: Estimated at $65 billion in principal investments. Many prominent individuals and charities were affected.

#3. WorldCom Accounting Scandal (2002):

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Details: WorldCom engaged in accounting fraud by inflating profits through improper capitalization of expenses. The fraud was orchestrated by top executives.

Total Losses: Approximately $40 billion in shareholder value was lost, and the company filed for bankruptcy.

#4. The Great Salad Oil Swindle (1963):

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Details: Anthony De Angelis defrauded banks and investors by pledging salad oil inventory he didn’t own as collateral for loans. He manipulated inspection certificates.

Total Losses: Over $175 million in losses, which is equivalent to over $1.5 billion today, making it one of the largest commodity frauds in history.

#5. HealthSouth Accounting Fraud (2003):

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Details: HealthSouth executives engaged in accounting fraud by inflating company earnings to meet Wall Street expectations.

Total Losses: Approximately $2.7 billion was involved in the accounting fraud scandal.

#6. Tyco International Scandal (2002):

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Details: Top executives at Tyco International, including CEO Dennis Kozlowski, were involved in the misappropriation of company funds, unauthorized bonuses, and loans.

Total Losses: Approximately $600 million in unauthorized bonuses and loans were identified.

#7. Savings and Loan Crisis (1980s):

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Details: The Savings and Loan Crisis was a widespread fraud involving savings and loan associations. High-risk lending and speculative investments led to insolvency.

Total Losses: Estimated at $124.6 billion, which required government bailouts to stabilize the industry.

#8. Adelphia Communications Scandal (2002):

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Details: Adelphia’s founder, John Rigas, and his sons engaged in corporate looting, using company funds for personal expenses.

Total Losses: Approximately $2.3 billion in losses due to corporate looting and fraud.

#9. Wells Fargo Unauthorized Account Scandal (2016):

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Details: Wells Fargo, one of the largest U.S. banks, faced a major scandal when it was revealed that employees opened millions of unauthorized accounts in customers’ names without their consent. The scandal involved deceptive sales practices and unrealistic sales targets.

Total Losses: Wells Fargo agreed to pay fines and settlements totaling around $3 billion. The scandal damaged the bank’s reputation and led to significant changes in its management and practices. Many customers were impacted by unauthorized fees and damaged credit scores.

#10. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Financial Crisis (2008):

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Details: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, government-sponsored enterprises, played a significant role in the 2008 financial crisis due to their exposure to high-risk mortgages, which they initially misrepresented in their books.

Total Losses: Government bailout costs exceeded $187 billion to stabilize the housing market and these institutions.

#11. The Theranos Scandal (2016):

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Details: Elizabeth Holmes, once hailed as the next Steve Jobs, claimed her company, Theranos, had revolutionized blood testing with a device that could perform hundreds of tests with just a few drops of blood. Investors and media alike were captivated by her vision. However, it was all a massive fraud.

Total Losses: Holmes and former Theranos president Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani were charged with massive fraud by the SEC in 2018. The technology never worked as claimed, and the company misled investors and patients. The estimated loss to investors was around $700 million, and countless patients received incorrect medical information.

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Pri Kingston

Ash & Pri are the Founders of AshandPri.com and have spent the last decade building their way towards financial freedom and a lifetime of memories. Having successfully achieved their early retirement goal in under 10 years, they look forward to sharing their financial sense with like-minded people. Read more about Ash & Pri in the 'About Us' section.