5-minute listening: Victor Lustig, the con man who ‘sold’ the Eiffel Tower

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  • Practise your English with our short listening exercises: play the audio linked below; answer the questions; and check the answers at the bottom of the page
  • This week’s podcast is about a notorious scam artist who pulled off the biggest con in history and ‘sold’ the most iconic landmark in Paris
John Millen |
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Victor Lustig’s scheme to sell the Eiffel Tower has become one of his most notorious scams. Photo: Shutterstock

Click on the video below for the audio.

Play a Kahoot! game about this podcast as a class or with your friends by clicking on the link here.

Or play on your own below to test your understanding:

Questions

1. What is Victor Lustig commonly known as?
A. prince of trickery
B. king of all con men
C. original owner of the Eiffel Tower
D. master of languages

2. How many identities did Lustig take on during his career as a con artist?
A. about 15
B. less than 40
C. no less than 45
D. at least 60

3. Which word has a similar meaning to “swindled”?
A. conned
B. scammed
C. deceived
D. all of the above

4. Which of the following best describes the sort of environment Lustig grew up in?
A. He was from a well-to-do family, and he did not have to worry about money.
B. He grew up in a poor family and was forced to quit school.
C. His parents were from the working class, and he had to work to pay for his own studies.
D. He was orphaned at a young age and had to fend for himself in the streets.

5. What does it mean if someone has a “penchant for trouble”?
A. They tend to avoid situations that they think are troublesome.
B. They have a strong tendency to behave in a way that gets them into trouble.
C. They enjoy finding solutions to difficult problems.
D. none of the above

6. Why did Lustig target passengers on transatlantic cruise ships?
A. because they needed his help
B. because they had nowhere else to go
C. because they were wealthy
D. because they were mostly foreigners

7. What name did Lustig go by when he was travelling on cruise ships?
A. Count Victor Lustig
B. Duke of Czechoslovakia
C. Lord Victor
D. Earl Lustig

8. Where did Lustig get his idea for the Eiffel Tower scam?
A. from one of his victims
B. after a visit to Paris
C. through another con artist
D. from an article

9. What was the problem with the Eiffel Tower in 1925?
A. It was starting to lean.
B. The land it was built on was sinking.
C. Tourists no longer visited it.
D. It cost too much money to look after.

10. If “a light bulb goes off in someone’s head”, they …
A. see an end to a bad situation
B. suddenly have a brilliant idea
C. forget something important
D. start earning a lot of money

11. What did Lustig tell people he would do with the Eiffel Tower?
A. demolish and then rebuild it
B. dismantle it and ship it to the United States
C. sell it as scrap metal
D. loan it to the French government

12. What reason did he give the scrap metal dealers for keeping the plan for the Eiffel Tower a secret?
A. so the citizens of Paris would not be upset
B. because the French government did not know about it
C. because of the Eiffel Tower’s poor condition
D. all of the above

13. Who was Andre Poisson?
A. Lustig’s partner in the crime
B. the original owner of the Eiffel Tower
C. a French government official who knew Lustig’s true identity
D. the man who was conned into buying the Eiffel Tower

14. What happened when Lustig tried to run the same Eiffel Tower scam the second time?
A. He succeeded and got away with a lot of money.
B. The police found out, and he was almost arrested.
C. It failed because no one believed him.
D. He was arrested but escaped from prison.

15. What illness killed Lustig?
A. pneumonia
B. lung disease
C. heart failure
D. information not given

Victor Lustig used to run many scams on passengers on transatlantic ocean liners. Illustration: Shutterstock

Answers

1. B
2. C
3. D
4. A
5. B
6. C
7. A
8. D
9. D
10. B
11. C
12. A
13. D
14. B
15. D

Script

Voice 1: Have you ever heard of Victor Lustig? He was an incredibly skilled con artist and was widely regarded as the king of all con men. Over a span of 40 years, Lustig worked under at least 45 different identities and swindled hundreds of innocent people.

Voice 2: Lustig was born in 1890 in a part of Austria-Hungary that is now in the Czech Republic. According to most accounts, his family was from the upper-middle class. He was an extremely bright child with a gift for languages but also a penchant for trouble. At the age of 19, while taking a break from his studies in Paris, Lustig took to gambling and soon left school. Using his quick wit and his fluency in different languages, Lustig began committing dozens of petty crimes under countless aliases across Europe.

Voice 1: His favourite, however, was that of “Count” Victor Lustig. Under this name, he travelled on transatlantic cruise ships and preyed on rich passengers. One of the schemes he often used was one in which he posed as a musical producer seeking investment in a non-existent Broadway production. But this came to an end when ocean liners were suspended because of World War I, and Lustig decided to move to the United States.

Voice 2: Between 1922 and 1924, Lustig managed to pull off several cons. In May 1925, Lustig travelled to Paris where he would commit his most notorious scam. He had read an article about the dreadful condition of the Eiffel Tower, which was too costly to maintain. That’s when a light bulb went off in Lustig’s head.

Voice 1: Posing as a government official, Lustig met a small group of scrap metal dealers. He explained that the city wanted to sell the Eiffel Tower as scrap metal. However, officials wanted to keep the plans a secret for fear that the people of Paris would object to the demolition of the famous monument.

Voice 2: One of the dealers, Andre Poisson, fell for Lustig’s story and signed a cheque for 1.2 million francs (worth about 53 million Hong Kong dollars in today’s money). The con man, of course, took the money and vanished. A month later, Lustig returned to Paris and tried to run the same scam, and was almost caught by the police. Once again, he fled to the United States.

Voice 1: Lustig continued to concoct elaborate schemes, but the law eventually caught up with him in 1935. Lustig was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and that was the end of the king of all con men. He died in prison from an illness on March 11, 1947. Lustig was 57 years old at the time of his death.

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