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10 Outlandish Cloak-And-Dagger Cons That People Actually Fell For

by A.C. Grimes
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Many of us have fantasized about being “James Bondian” superspies, although few of us are confident and corrupt enough to pretend in real life that we are. But the individuals on this list were that treacherously bold. Amazingly, people believed them, which paved the way for embarrassing hijinks and jarring injustices.

10 The 007 Of Leicestershire


In 2006, Michael Newitt reached a crushing financial low. The Leicestershire, England, businessman had already gone through one bankruptcy, and his latest venture was about to fail. Bills were mounting, and he couldn’t keep up. But when a bank attempted to have Newitt’s boat repossessed, he decided drastic action was in order.

Like Superman emerging with a new identity from a phone booth of personal crisis, the broke businessman morphed into “Commander Newitt,” an intelligence officer from MI5. According to the commander, that boat was needed for an undercover mission. The lie worked like a charm and kicked off a two-year, role-playing ruse. Newitt produced fake government identification, slept with replica guns (including one from a Bond film), drove a siren-equipped vehicle, and carried a wallet emblazoned with the royal crown. He even stole James Bond’s fictional valor by naming himself as the recipient of a chivalry award given to the spy in From Russia With Love.

Aided only by fake documents and tremendous chutzpah, Newitt duped bill collectors, police officers, and even his own wife. On mornings when he would dart from his home, she assumed that he was on an important mission. Once, he even used his fake identity as a pretext for waltzing into a police station and having a sergeant furnish him with a new pocketbook.

Eventually, a police constable had the good sense to try verifying Newitt’s statements, and his story unraveled. After being regaled with tales of Newitt’s bizarre ploy, a UK judge sentenced him to two years in jail.

9 The Pseudo–Secret Service Agent Who Hobnobbed With The King


In Madrid, Spain, 20-year-old Francisco Nicolas Gomez Iglesias had a knack for passing himself off as a highly important person with credentials that he hadn’t earned. Despite only being a university student and not even bothering to use an alias, Gomez Iglesias dined in VIP sections with businessmen who believed that he was a government adviser. He also convinced cops and high-ranking security officials that he was a secret service agent.

His charm and flashy extravagance probably helped. Gomez Iglesias sometimes hired a chauffeur, creating an air of prestige that was apparently hard to ignore. He had also once crossed paths with Spain’s secretary of state for trade, who had formerly worked at Gomez Iglesias’s university. He used this tenuous connection to bluff his way into meetings with high-powered execs, citing the secretary as a reference. And these encounters weren’t just for show. Gomez Iglesias once netted about $32,000 for brokering a property deal for one of his business contacts.

But corporate schmoozing was only one of Gomez Iglesias’s ambitions. He also traveled about town in a car with false police lights and registration plates and liked to have forged secret service documents on hand to give the impression that he was an agent. These misleading materials proved to be handy for getting out of speeding tickets. But his most outrageous stunt occurred when he cleared security at a high-profile government event and shook hands with the newly crowned King Felipe VI. Getting that close to a monarch on the power of word and fake credentials alone, especially in a country with a history of deadly terrorist attacks, was a black eye for Spain’s actual secret service.

But the impish student tested his luck one time too many when he attempted to join a function at the American Embassy in 2014 and was rejected. Together with his attempts to forge ties with the royal family, the embassy incident finally tipped off security that something was amiss. After an investigation, police arrested Gomez Iglesias.

8 The Secret Agent Who Was Secretly Just A Bigamist


Naturalized British citizen William Jordan worked for the government as an IT contractor. Through his employment, he gained access to CIA web pages, passes to enter British Royal Air Force bases, and even emails linked to the UK’s deputy prime minister. Using these resources as tools in a sinister deception, Jordan passed himself off as a CIA operative employed on behalf of Britain’s Ministry of Defense. In truth, he just had a penchant for philandering, baby making, and bigamy.

For 13 years, Jordan’s spy lie masked the fact that he had sired at least 10 children with at least four different women on two continents. For roughly three of those years, he was simultaneously married to two of these women without either knowing. But that tenuous family-juggling act came crashing down atop his head due to girlfriend Denise King whom Jordan had intended to make his third wife.

King was not only Jordan’s girlfriend but also a prospective employee at a firm he had registered under his second wife’s name. That firm was a pretext to obtain King’s credit card information. Once successful, Jordan started making hefty unauthorized purchases in her name. He had also borrowed £4,500 from King under false pretenses and failed to pay it back. Disillusioned and naturally upset, she got the police involved, opening a Pandora’s box of legal and marital improprieties for Jordan.

In addition to being a con man and a bigamist, Jordan was a convicted sex offender who had failed to register his address. A UK judge sentenced Jordan to five years in jail.

7 The Fake MI5 Spy Who Kidnapped An Aspiring Model


Stephen Webber was a balding, middle-aged photographer based in the UK. But that’s not what he told 26-year-old aspiring model Laura Chapman when she approached him for a photo shoot. Instead, he terrified her to no end with fantastical talk of an assassination plot on her life from which he could save her. After all, according to Webber, he was a spy.

Webber presented himself as an MI5 agent and claimed that Chapman was being tapped for a similar position at the agency. There was just one deadly wrench in the works: Russian assassins had apparently infected both of them with a life-threatening virus. Stunned and stunningly convinced, Chapman wrote a farewell letter to her family and departed with the photographer on a nerve-racking quest to stay alive.

At one point, Webber blindfolded Chapman and bound her to a chair while staying at the residence of one of his friends, a space he described as an interrogation room. For five days, the pair went hotel-hopping as Webber wove increasingly extravagant lies. He discussed “shooting to kill” and mourned the deaths of imaginary fellow operatives. Chapman was too petrified to leave his side and ceded control of her phone and bank cards to him.

Police ultimately caught up with the duo and arrested Webber, but the deceitful photographer denied responsibility for what was essentially abduction by deception. However, the judge wasn’t swayed, and Webber was sentenced to nine years in prison.

6 The ‘Millionaire CIA Operative’ Who Fleeced His Friends


At Shooter’s Paradise gun range in Oxnard, California, Larry Lee Risser Jr. was kind of a big deal. The supposed son of a government ambassador and self-made millionaire, he also claimed to be a CIA agent who risked his life in far-flung lands. It wasn’t until Risser had already scammed two people out of a combined $20,000 that he was exposed for the pants-on-fire liar that he truly was.

Initially, Risser’s friends and acquaintances bought into his outrageous boasts completely. He wore what appeared to be an official badge and spoke convincingly about his confidential craft. Then, out of the blue, the supposed millionaire needed large amounts of money. In January 2006, friend and gun store owner George Rice received a frantic call from Risser saying that he’d been grievously wounded during a mission in Iraq and needed $10,000 for a rescue helicopter and pilot. Convinced by apparent military radio transmissions in the background, Rice complied.

In addition to conning Rice, Risser used his rescue chopper story to coax $10,000 out of another generous individual and almost persuaded Shooter’s Paradise owner John Barrison to fork over $12,000. Barrison actually wrote Risser a check before thinking better of it and contacting the police. Rice, who had already wired Risser a large sum of money, also turned to law enforcement when the so-called CIA agent asked for another $10,000 cash injection for a second helicopter. With the jig unquestionably up, Risser pled guilty to his crimes in court.

5 The Phony Secret Service Agent Who Tricked Women Into Sleeping With Him


Decades of movie romanticism have made it seem like all spies are wealthy and have an unquenchable sex drive. In Valencia, Spain, an unidentified policeman attempted to recreate this sex-fueled fantasy when he impersonated a secret service agent as a means of getting women into bed and getting their money.

Aided by a female accomplice, the crooked cop offered unsuspecting women a post with the Spanish secret service that paid 1,900 euros a month as long as they serviced him sexually and gave him jewelry. To make his scheme appear authentic, the man would dazzle prospective “recruits” with a barrage of electronic devices, weapons, and military footage. At least 11 women reportedly took the bait, one of whom forked over a gold chain worth 242 euros and performed oral sex on the fake agent.

In July 2013, Spanish authorities caught wind of the secret service imposter and hauled him and his criminal collaborator off to jail. Considering his charges—fraud, attempted sexual assault, blackmail, and impersonating an officer of the law—the perverted policeman got off easy with a fine of only 1,200 euros.

4 The Bogus Spy Who Bamboozled His Better Half


When jeweler’s assistant Leanne McCarthy began dating Wayne Gouveia, she was barely an adult and undoubtedly impressed by the lavish gifts he bought her. Soon, her doting darling started whispering conspiratorial thoughts in her ear and suggesting that her boss wanted to murder her. McCarthy placed her fate in Gouveia’s hands, certain that he was an MI5 operative on a mission to save her life. But buying into this tale of intrigue, romance, and murder didn’t come cheap: McCarthy lost her life savings in the process.

Gouveia was merely a whiskey shop salesman looking to get his grubby mitts on McCarthy’s money. He achieved this by sowing seeds of distrust toward her boss. Initially, he faked being an undercover cop and accused her employer of planning to rob his own jewelry store for insurance money. As time went on, Gouveia upped the insanity. He portrayed himself as an MI5 agent and warned the jeweler’s assistant that her boss was gunning for her with anthrax-tainted mail. To create the illusion that McCarthy was in great peril, he staged a break-in at the Oxford, England, apartment that the pair shared.

Terrified to open her own mail, McCarthy entrusted it to Gouveia, who repaid her trust by stealing her banking information and helping himself to £14,000 of her savings. A furious and nearly bankrupt McCarthy sought compensation in court. But a judge ruled that Gouveia had insufficient means to repay McCarthy and instead required him to shell out a paltry £10.

3 The MI5’s Sword-Wielding Extortionist


Former UK policeman Marcus Alder drove a BMW with a license plate that read “MI5 SPY” and had a fake government ID which misspelled the MI5 director’s name. Although that reads like the start of a goofy crime story, this is the tale of an evil predator with greedy ambitions.

Alder’s espionage gimmick was put to its most effective use with online dating, where he would court women with the aid of fake intelligence credentials. In several instances, Alder’s targets fell for his deceit, even agreeing to give him money which he used to finance multiple cars. One of his Internet love interests, Angela Grieg, actually married him. Before their wedding was even a full day old, Alder revealed that she was little more to him than the financial fly to his money-hungry spider. Trapped, Grieg was forced to take out a mortgage over the phone while her psychotic husband held a samurai sword to her throat.

Even though he claimed to be heterosexual in private, the MI5 fraudster also swore that he was the same-sex paramour and civil partner of Philip Tyssen-Gee, a wealthy loner who had killed himself in 2006. Alder hoped to acquire Tyssen-Gee’s assets. To that end, he forged a suicide note to the deceased’s family and begged them for at least £100,000. Alder also enlisted a frightened business partner in his charade, coercing the man at gunpoint. Fearing for his life, the associate wrote a letter to the executor of Tyssen-Gee’s estate confirming that Alder had been in a civil partnership with the dead man. However, Alder’s lies were eventually exposed, earning him a 14-year prison sentence.

2 The Faux Secret Service Member Who Plotted His Own Assassination


For a time, there was no denying that 16-year-old “Mark” and 14-year-old “John” (whose true identities were kept hidden) were bosom buddies. But in 2003, Mark brutally stabbed John in an alley by a UK mall. John lived but spent his days pretending to be baffled about the attack. But the off-the-rails actuality was that John had suckered Mark into attempting murder.

Presenting himself as a female spy in the British secret service and enticing Mark with offers of sex and lucrative employment, John incited the attack that almost killed him. This wasn’t just a freakishly elaborate suicide attempt but the culmination of a long, emotionally anguished double life. John was smitten with Mark and had been deceiving him for months with various online guises as a means to get close to him.

He first got into Mark’s good graces by posing as his own fictional sister, Rachel. This became a pretext for John (as himself) to befriend Mark. John readily exploited the iron bond that Mark forged with “Rachel” and John. At one point, John pretended to be a homosexual stalker bent on harming Rachel and himself. To ensure their safety, Mark agreed to perform sex acts in front of a webcam, never suspecting that John was on the other end.

Eventually, John became depressed over the realization that Mark could never reciprocate his romantic feelings, so John hatched his suicide plan. Mark was clueless about all that transpired until John confessed in court. Unsurprisingly, the two were forbidden to have contact and barred from unsupervised Internet use.

1 The ‘Intelligence Expert’ Who Hoodwinked Washington


Kevin Halligen was such a compelling British spy that lobbyists, Pentagon officials, and even the future undersecretary of defense under President Obama bought into his act. But this charismatic character with the perfect British accent and expensive tastes wasn’t even British.

A disarmingly intelligent Irishman, Halligen spent time working as an IT guy at a private security consulting firm in London. There, he met a retired general who once headed the British Army’s special forces. The general was so taken with Halligen that he helped Halligen launch his own security firm, Red Defense International. Too late, the general recognized that Halligen had greatly oversold his abilities and experience. The crafty con man then weaseled his way into an exclusive private club for people in British intelligence before choosing the United States as his next conquest.

Halligen won over Pentagon officials and other Washington insiders with little problem, recounting stories he’d heard from actual spies as his own. He attracted investors for US security company Oakley International and snagged multimillion-dollar security contracts. In the meantime, Halligen also attracted Commerce Department lawyer Maria Dybczak, who fell in love with him. Dybczak even agreed to a fake wedding with Halligen when he convinced her that his covert work prevented him from signing official documents and marrying her in earnest. But actually, he’d already abandoned a previous wife and never got around to divorcing.

For nearly three years, Halligen lived his American dream of pricey hotels, exquisite restaurants, and extravagant real estate. But the people paying him began to wise up. In 2008, the Find Madeline Fund, which gave Halligen’s US firm about $1 million to help locate a missing child, grew disillusioned and severed ties. A major investor at Oakley International also began pressing Halligen about his expenditures. With detractors and debt mounting, he skipped town to London, only to be foiled by a bartender who recognized him as a great teller of spy stories who never paid his bar tab.

Halligen was jailed in London in 2009 and extradited to the US in 2012. In 2013, he pleaded guilty to wire fraud and was later sentenced to 41 months in federal prison. In addition, the court demanded that Halligen repay $2.1 million to a company that he had deceived.

fact checked by Jamie Frater