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This Woman Successfully Scammed Thousands into Buying “Magic Cheese”

Pyramid schemes are as old as magic. One elderly French woman recently managed to scam thousands of Chileans into purchasing a cheese with magical properties that have yet to come to fruition.
Photo via Flickr user A. Currell

Wouldn't it be great if magic was real? If there was a way to turn back time or disappear from your work desk and reappear on a beach in Bermuda with a piña colada in hand? Why can't we devise a love potion that makes all of our crushes mutual, or conjure a magic wig that makes one look like early 90s Cindy Crawford? And how does Criss Angel walk through that metal gate?!

Some people would really like to believe in magic, improbable and proven-impossible as it may be. There was the 32-year-old Brooklyn man who recently got cajoled out of nearly $714,000 by a Manhattan psychic who swore that if he just forked over one more bundle of $90,000, she would ensure that his broken heart would be mended, seriously! But actually, that will be another $30,000, for the rose gold Rolex needed to "go back and cleanse the past." Oof, and forgot the "bridge of gold into another realm." Please add an additional $80,000 to your bill.


Tempting as it can be to dote on that story of incredibly gullibility, there's another one in the headlines this week, and it involves … cheese.

Pyramid schemes are as old as magic—hell, they just might be the number-one preferred method of all time for ripping people off. And 74-year-old French woman Gilberte Van Erpe pulled off a pretty incredible one: she convinced thousands of Chilean victims to buy €369 (US $413) kits that she claimed would help them produce a type of magic cheese that they could then sell to cosmetic companies for top dollar.

No matter that this magic cheese was virtually unheard of on the consumer end. Disregard that detail and start fermenting, ladies and gents!

According to The Guardian, Van Erpe wrangled a staggering €14.5 million by telling her customers that the special powder in the kits could be mixed with milk and fermented to produce a sort of beauty "cheese" that was used in face creams and other products favored by celebrities such as Michael Jackson (disregarding, apparently, the fact that Michael Jackson's face was literally falling apart).

Van Erpe began holding conferences in Chile in 2005 promoting the kits and telling buyers that producing the magic cheese was a fast 'n' easy way of boosting their income. She would give away the first run of kits for free, buy back the nasty white sludge that they produced, and then pull the buyers (eventually some 5,500 of them) into a cycle of reinvesting their "profits."

Needless to say, the goo produced by the kits was worthless, neither as edible and delicious as an actual cheese nor as effective as any run-of-the-mill facial moisturizer you'd get at the drug store. But Van Erpe—a.k.a. "Madame Gil"—(almost) pulled off "one of the biggest pyramid schemes ever seen in South America." Although authorities caught on to her bullshitting in 2006, she is still being pursued in France for her scheme, finally going on trial just this week.

Apparently, the fromage magique was never even exported; it was eventually found "rotting in a Chilean warehouse."

Now that's some truly stinky cheese.