July 17, 2002 10:32 AM Subscribe
Scam: From 1920 to 1933, Oscar Merrill Hartzell bilked thousands and thousands of people out of millions and millions of dollars in the midst of a Great Depression. But when he was forcably returned to the US to face trial, the "common man" hailed him as a hero and savior. As the author of (the highly recommended) Drake's Fortune notes, confidence artists are a perverse echo of the classic Horatio Alger story, as swindlers build wealth by dint of ingenuity, perseverence, and breath-taking chutzpah. Perhaps that is why we love to read books and see films of their exploits. But it doesn't explain why we keep falling for the same ruses over and over again.
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