Victor Lustig and the great Eiffel Tower Scam of 1925.

Scams come and go and have plagued us for years and years. Often though, the amounts are small and we can easily bounce back and recover. For some victims though, the embarrassment of the scam and the amount of money lost can be just too much to take.

In May 1925, a well known con-man named Count Von Lustig travelled to Paris, France together with his partner in crime, Dapper Dan Colins. Once there, they read a small newspaper article where the authorities for city of Paris were saying that the tower needed repairing and that it would be a very difficult and expensive job and it would be easier to take the tower down than repair it.

From this moment on, the con was born and Lustig and his friend set to work on finding someone to buy the rights to tear the tower down and in return get access to the tons of scrap metal which could be salvaged and resold. He organised stationary mimicking the official stationary of the French Government, appoint himself as Deputy Director General of the Ministère de Postes et Télégraphes and then sent letters to the leading scrap iron dealers from the whole country. He kept the letters vague but invited them all to an appointment at a 5* hotel in the centre of the city.

After wining and dining his guests he got down to business and notified the businessmen that the city was selling the tower but noted that they must keep this news quiet because of the potential outcry from some of the citizens if they knew (This also helped keep his scam under cover.) He asked them to submit proposals of how much they would pay for the job of taking down the tower and wished the businessmen all a good day.

A photo of Victor Lustig – The conman behind the incredible scam.

To Lustig, it didn’t matter the what was the highest bid, more the likely target of whom he would be able to scam. This unfortunate position fell to  man named André Poisson and sure enough, a few days later, his bid was accepted. However all was not over yet…On finalizing the deal and handing over the money, Poisson began to develop cold feet and was not entirely sure if this deal was safe. How come he had never heard of this government official before? Why was the deal being done in a hotel and not an official government building? Noting that his victim was hesitating, one of Lustig’s best stroke of genius arrived. He asked Poisson for a bribe! He said being in the French government was difficult, he had to dress well, entertain his guests and run the country yet was given a small state salary in return. Lustig’s ploy worked perfectly, suddenly Poisson was convinced this was the real deal. All government officials were corrupt in France at the time, all of them asked for bribes.

So there you have it, the deal was done, the money handed over and Lustig and his confidant, Dan Collins fled the city carefully monitoring the news for details of the scam to break through, however no news ever came. Lustig put this down to the shame and embarrassment of Poisson falling for the deal, he simply did not want his public image to be ruined now that his wallet had been.

You have to remember that in the 1920’s, although the Eiffel Tower was still incredible, it just wasn’t as popular as it is in modern times. It was never meant to be a permanent structure and the idea that the government wanted to take it down didn’t seem all that implausible.

Thanks to UselessInformation for giving us the background to this story.