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January 2008
Robert Ashton and Aisling Davis have been playing tricks on each other for years. But when Robert dyed Aisling's hair blonde while she was asleep, she decided she needed to come up with something big to get him back. What she eventually dreamed up was to legally change Robert's name... to "Ima Stapler." The Halifax Courier reports:

Aisling, of Sowerby Bridge, decided to take her revenge. She knew someone who had recently changed their middle name by deed poll and wondered if it would be possible to change a name without that person knowing.
"Some friends and I thought of different names but Ima Stapler was the one that made us laugh the most," said Aisling, a teaching assistant of Burnley Road, Sowerby Bridge
"I've known him for a long time so I had most of his details. To be honest I thought it would be more difficult.
"I wouldn't have been able to do it to anyone else."

Apparently a "deed poll" is a legal document used in England to change one's name. It seems a bit scary that she was able to get away with this. Imagine what an identity thief could do.

But Robert, aka Ima Staper, says he thinks it's funny and has no plans to change his name back.

The Halifax Courier also reports that more than 40,000 people changed their name by deed poll last year: "New names issued included Jellyfish Mc-Saveloy, Toasted T Cake, Nineteen Sixty-Eight, Hong Kong Phooey, Daddy Fantastic, One-One-Eight Taxi, Ting A Ling, Huggy Bear, Donald Duck and Jojo Magicspacemonkey."
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 09, 2008
Comments (8)
Jeremy Clarkson, host of Top Gear, (which you can see in America if you get BBC America on cable) publicly mocked a story about some computer discs being lost that held the bank details of 25 million people. He claimed that there was no way hackers would be able to use the information to withdraw money from people's accounts. To show how certain he was of this, he published his own account code and routing number.

A few days later, according to Clarkson:

"I opened my bank statement this morning to find out that someone has set up a direct debit which automatically takes £500 from my account. The bank cannot find out who did this because of the Data Protection Act and they cannot stop it from happening again. I was wrong and I have been punished for my mistake."

The money from his account was being debited to the charity Diabetes UK.

I've often wondered what prevents criminals from withdrawing money from bank accounts in the same way businesses can when you set up automatic payment plans with them. All that's needed is the account and routing number -- which is at the bottom of every check. But I assume there must be some system to prevent this happening.
Categories: Business/Finance
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 08, 2008
Comments (8)
The latest hoax website doing the rounds is I posted a page about it in the hoaxipedia.

The site purports to be a business that buys people's unwanted pets and resells them to research labs. Animal lovers, of course, are up in arms about this.

It's pretty obvious the site is a fake. Its over-the-top tone, if nothing else, gives it away:

You can enjoy their wonderful puppy / kitten stage and then reap a cash reward for having grown such a fine specimen. Start over with a new kitten every six months! Win, Win, and Win!

The business the site describes is perfectly legal, and there are companies that do it... for now, at least. Legislation has been proposed to make this kind of practice illegal, because the companies involved in this business seem to be a pretty shady bunch who do things like acquire pets from "free-to-good-home" ads, or even steal them out of people's backyards, and then resell them to labs. Kind of like the nineteenth-century "resurrection men" who used to steal corpses from graves to supply medical labs.

Apparently the larger goal of the site is to raise awareness of the stray-animal trade and to encourage people to contact their congressmen and encourage them to pass the Pet Safety and Protection Act. For which reason, the site falls into the genre of Modest-Proposal-style hoaxes (i.e. hoaxes that, like Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal, seek to shock people by seeming to advocate outrageous ideas).

Or whoever created the site could just be hoping to make a quick buck from the ads he's running on it.
Categories: Animals, Gross, Websites
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 08, 2008
Comments (1)
According to a rumor that circulates among the population of South Carolina's Hilton Head Island, there's a group of Mexican immigrants living on top of one of the local supermarkets. It may be the Bi-Lo Supermarket, or the Port Royal Plaza, or the Harris Teeter. Supposedly this tent city of roof-living immigrants tapped into the store's electricity and even diverted the air conditioning system to cool their tents.

The Island Packet News is pretty sure that the story of the rooftop tent city is just an urban legend:
by all official accounts -- and satellite imagery available through Google Maps -- there's never been a sign of anyone squatting on a grocery store roof on Hilton Head. The Sheriff's Office says it has never had any evidence of people living on the roof of the store, and Bi-Lo officials say the story is just an urban legend, though a particularly potent one. Company officials would not agree to let a photographer on the roof of the store, but a Packet reporter who was able to get near the roof also saw no signs of habitation.

This urban legend is new to me, though I'd be surprised if other towns don't have similar rumors. I'll have to do some research into this.

My wife and I often think we hear things moving about on our roof. We assume it's possums, rats, or crows. They can make a lot of noise. I assume a belief that an entire tent city of immigrants is living on a roof must stem from similar causes.

(Thanks, Joe)
Categories: Places, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Thu Jan 03, 2008
Comments (6)
A New Mexico family reports that an image of the Virgin Mary has appeared in the pattern of the texture of their wall. Their granddaughter says, "I think God is trying to tell us something, like a message from heaven." Maybe that message is, "Don't get a job applying wall texture."

Is it just me, or are these Virgin Mary sightings getting harder and harder to see? I can barely make this one out at all.

Bob forwarded me the link with the comment, "How ridiculous would a 'sighting' of the Virgin Mary have to be before the news would refuse to report it?" I assume, Bob, that this is a rhetorical question.
Categories: Pareidolia, Religion
Posted by Alex on Thu Jan 03, 2008
Comments (21)
Happy New Years everyone! My apologies for the absence of posts for the past week. I was on vacation, visiting family on the east coast and in Arizona.

One month ago I posted about a group of female criminals from the 1950s called the "Brassiere Brigade." They stole money from the counting room of a telephone company, where they worked, by smuggling rolls of quarters out in their bras.

I only discovered the story of these women by accident when I came across a reference to them in an old newspaper. I thought I had stumbled upon an incredibly obscure story, and it occurred to me that it was perfect material for a movie -- one of those cute "chick-flicks" that Hollywood churns out. I had visions of writing it up as a screenplay and making a fortune.

But my hopes were dashed when I recently saw the trailer for a movie called Mad Money that's coming out on Jan. 18. The movie (which stars Queen Latifah, Katie Holmes, and Diane Keaton) is the story of three women who steal money from a Federal Reserve Bank, where they work, by smuggling the money out in their underwear. In other words, it's basically the story of the Brassiere Brigade in a different setting (a bank instead of a phone company). Somebody got to my idea first!!!

I'm not sure if Mad Money actually was inspired by the exploits of the Brassiere Brigade, though it's close enough not to make a difference. The Mad Money site doesn't make any mention of the Brassiere Brigade. The movie seems to be a remake of a 2001 British made-for-TV movie called Hot Money, about a group of British cleaning women who steal money from the Bank of England. The British movie claims to be based on a real-life incident, though it provides no specifics about that incident. Perhaps there was a group of female British criminals who copied the modus operandi of the American Brassiere Brigade. Hiding money in underwear may be a far more common method of theft than I realized.

Mad Money doesn't look very good, so I'm not going to bother seeing it in a theater. Perhaps I'll rent it on DVD. I think it would have been much better if it actually was the story of the Brassiere Brigade, set in Miami in the 1950s.
Categories: Entertainment, Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Thu Jan 03, 2008
Comments (14)
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