"Magic cheese" hoax goes whey overboard

It seems the art of the Ponzi scheme is universal. A French woman has just been busted for bilking thousands of South Americans out of their cash in return for...magic cheese?

From seaweed to caffeine, wheat germ to wine grapes, the list of "secret" ingredients that cosmetic companies use is long, obscure, and bizarre. Consequently, when Gilberte Van Erpe, aka "Madame Gil" began selling cheese-making kits to poor people in Chile, her pitch probably made a great deal of sense.

Posing as a beauty industry supplier, she traveled across the countryside, convincing villagers to make a cheese that could then be sold to cosmetics companies for use as a secret ingredient. It is estimated that, in three years of running con games in South America, she may have scammed as many as 27,000 people out of up to $300 million.