History has always been full of con men and scam artists ready to rip off the most gullible among us. While we may be more familiar with impersonators like Frank Abagnale and financial swindlers like Bernie Madoff, a number of people out there deserve to be in the spotlight as well, mainly because they managed to pull off an amazing selection of forgeries during their career.
10 The Uighur Swindler
Although Islam Akhun lacked an education, that didn’t stop him from successfully passing off forged Silk Road papers as genuine.
Prior to his scam, several European governments were in an archaeological race in Central Asia following the discovery of an authentic document known as the Bower Manuscript in 1889. After learning from Afghan traders how the Europeans paid for every document found, Akhun decided to cash in on the craze without ever having to dig in the desert. Together with his associates, Akhun began forging phony documents in 1894 and sold them to the unsuspecting Europeans. Akhun’s scam went unnoticed for three years due to the Europeans’ inability to read the characters on the documents.
Unfortunately for Akhun, his scheme began to unravel in 1898 when a Swedish missionary named Magnus Backlund shared his doubts. A British linguistics scholar named Rudolf Hoernle soon advised archaeologists to stop buying any more manuscripts from Akhun. His swindling days officially came to an end in 1901, when British archaeologist Sir Aurel Stein successfully extracted a confession from him.
9 The Anesthesiologist Who Dreamed Up His Data
A few years before Yoshitaka Fujii stunned the world with news of his record-breaking scientific fraud, fellow anesthesiologist Scott Reuben was already in the limelight. Although the doctor from Massachusetts only fabricated 21 research papers against Fujii’s 179, Reuben’s fraud made a bigger impact, especially on patient safety. Since 1996, Reuben concocted fictitious data supporting the use of specific pain drugs after orthopedic surgery. In reality, these drugs may have actually slowed the recovery process.
Reuben’s plot to push these drugs came to an end in 2009 after a surgeon discovered that Reuben forged his signature in one of his papers. Following a string of investigations, Reuben was found guilty of healthcare fraud and was sentenced in 2010 to six months plus three years of supervised release. In addition to having his license revoked by the Medical Board, Reuben also had his name blacklisted by the FDA.
8 The Monk’s Fictitious Biography Of A Saint
If there’s anything that the 11th-century French monk Ademar de Chabannes can teach us, it’s that persistence can pay off—especially when it comes to lying.
As a young man, Ademar was educated in the famous St. Martial’s Abbey in Limoges, France. Like the rest of the monks there, he came to venerate St. Martial—so much so that he wrote a fake backdated biography naming the third-century figure as St. Peter’s cousin and one of Jesus’s apostles. After Christ’s death, Peter supposedly commissioned Martial to go and preach in Gaul.
To back up their claim, Ademar and the monks also created a new liturgy dedicated to Martial. On the day of its celebration, a visiting monk named Benedict of Chiusa exposed the fraud, shaming the perpetrators. But far from feeling beaten, Ademar instead continued to heap forgeries upon forgeries for the rest of his life to uphold Martial’s apostolicity. His efforts met with some success; after his death, locals continued to venerate Martial as an apostle for centuries.