From the “Bangkok gem scam” to the fake mining companies of Gold Rush-era San Francisco, if there’s one thing that’s stayed constant throughout history, it’s swindlers trying to make an extra buck.
But certain frauds have a home-grown craftsmanship about them—carefully constructed to best suit their surroundings. Such “artisanal frauds” are staples of a certain place, not found just anywhere. It’s email scams from Nigeria, which would be a joke except for the fact that they still work (and in fact because of the country’s poor reputation, actually better help fraudsters find gullible victims.) Or it’s hired wedding guests in South Korea who are bought by the hour to clap over matrimonial performances and fill church pews of those who want to outdo their friends.
These aren’t your average, everyday UFO sightings or Medicare scandals; These are ambitious products of their time and place (and often, loose regulatory bodies). Whether it’s fake animals at the zoo or manipulated photos of the Soviet Union, it’s their very origin that helps make them legend. Here are 18 examples of site-specific fraud, mapped above.