The Art of Exploiting Credulity

How Victor Lustig exploited it to sell the unsellable

Mentalcodex | Julfi

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April 1925, 5 men are gathered in a lounge at the luxurious Crillon Hotel in Paris.

They’ve secretly been selected to discuss the greatest deal of the 20th century…

The sale of the Eiffel Tower.

Victor Lustig, a high-ranking official says:

“As you may have read in the newspapers, the maintenance costs of the Eiffel Tower are too high. The French state can no longer cover it. We have no choice but to sell it.”

He is speaking to the 4 best scrap metal dealers in the area, and the offer is simple: 7,300 tons of steel for an unbeatable price.

After this proposal, the men leave the Hotel to go to the Eiffel Tower.

Lustig has a special authorization giving him priority over other visitors. He goes technical, showing them the building and making businessmen salivate over the 15,000 beams and 2.5 million rivets.

When it’s time to part, all the men remain skeptical, but one shows more interest than the others. This was André Poisson, who closed the deal, only to realize a few days later that he’d been swindled.

Victor Lustig was not a high-ranking official but a lifelong swindler.

He had no special authorization. He wasn’t an expert in the domain. And all the papers he presented to the gentlemen were fake.

At the heart of the greatest scam of the 20th century was a genius at exploiting credulity. Let’s delve into the psychological levers that Lustig pulled to get the job done.

1- Narrow Time Perception

We like to think of ourselves as rational and able to see the world as it is. But it’s quite a naive thought. Time fades our memory and distorts our souvenirs.

Our choices aren’t much influenced by a clear understanding of the past but by a noisy perception of the now.

It is easier to convince someone by appealing to vivid hype rather than by referring to a blurry past.

That’s what Victor Lustig did.

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Mentalcodex | Julfi

Power dynamics expert. I share essays and historical case studies about Human nature and its relationship with power.