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Status: Useful stuff to know if you're buying a car
Florida businessman Earl Stewart has started a blog, Earl Stewart On Cars, that's full of useful insights about the auto industry. Some of his observations about auto dealer scams and deceptive sales tactics are particularly interesting. Here's a few of them:
• The “Big Sale Event”. If you look in today’s newspaper, you will find that most car dealers in your area are having a sale of some kind. It may be because of a current holiday, “too large an inventory” of cars, to “reduce their taxes”, “the manager is out of town”, or some other nefarious lure... If you don’t buy a car during the tight time constraints of a phony sales event, you can negotiate just as good a price the next day.

“The Price I’m giving you is only good for today”. If a salesman or sales manager tells you that, it is probably only a tactic to push you into buying the car.

“Take the car home tonight and see how you like it”... there are two reasons the car salesman offers this. One is that you must leave the vehicle you might be trading in with the car dealer. This means that you cannot shop prices with other dealers. The second reason is the psychological impact of parking that new car in your driveway where your family and neighbors can see it. The slang expression for this is “the puppy dog”.

• The “really big” discount”... Federal law requires new cars to have a price sticker on the window named the Monroney label. A discount from this suggested retail price gives you a fair basis for comparison. Unfortunately, most car dealers today, increase the suggested retail price substantially with the use of an addendum to the Monroney sticker often referred to as a “Market Adjustment Addendum”. This “adjustment” can be several thousands of dollars. Be sure you know what the asking price is for the car when you have been offered a “big discount”.
In Hippo Eats Dwarf I noted an outrageous example of misleading advertising used by one car dealership. They had a "half-price sale" during which "The price you see is half the price you pay." Think about it.

Carl Sifakis has also cataloged a number of auto dealer scams in his book Hoaxes and Scams: A Compendium of Deceptions, Ruses and Swindles.

For instance, there's the practice (now illegal in many states) of "bird dogging" in which car dealers pay people who refer customers to them. Obviously someone getting paid for a referral might not be objective. Plus, as Sifakis notes, "car salesmen aren't about to give a customer referred by a bird dog an extra good deal." He then relates this story:
New car salesmen tell the standard story of the sharpie to whom a potential buyer was referred. The salesman promptly took him for almost list price, despite the fact that the customer had a trade-in that also netted the hustler an extra commission. The salesman also took the shopper for financing and insurance at very favorable terms—that is, for the car dealer. The kicker to the story showed up on the paperwork when the salesman filled in his contact for the sale. In the space naming the source, he'd written "Mother."
Then there's the practices of lowballing and highballing. In lowballing the salesman offers to sell a car for a ridiculously low price, only to reveal later that the manager hadn't approved the price, and that the real price is much higher. Many people will then buy the car anyway, because they've already got their mind around to the idea of buying it. Highballing is the same thing, but switched around so that the dealer will offer to buy a trade-in for a ridiculously high price, only to reveal later that the manager hadn't approved that price.
Categories: Advertising, Business/Finance, Con Artists
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 19, 2006
Comments (14)
Status: Strange News
image Earlier this month the Secret Service raided the offices of the Great News Network (a Texas ministry) and seized 8300 inspirational tracts. The problem with the tracts? They were printed on million-dollar bills. I would say fake million-dollar bills, but since there's no such thing as real million-dollar bills, there can't exactly be fake ones either. However, the Secret Service felt they looked a little bit too much like real currency for comfort. Reportedly someone had tried to deposit one at a bank. Meanwhile, the Great News Network isn't happy and is threatening to sue the government. But they should realize the government has an extremely low tolerance for any kind of fake currency. Witness the case of J.S.G. Boggs (whom I write about in Hippo Eats Dwarf). He's an artist who creates counterfeit currency as art, though his bills are single-sided, so they're not likely to be mistaken for actual money. Nevertheless, the Secret Service raided his studio back in 1992 and seized thousands of his works, and haven't returned them to this day.

Incidentally, here's the tract that was written on the million-dollar bills. (You can try to purchase the bills here):
The million dollar question: Will you go to Heaven? Here's a quick test. Have you ever told a lie, stolen anything, or used God's name in vain? Jesus said, "Whoever looks upon a woman to lust after her has committed adultery already with her in his heart." Have you looked with lust? Will you be guilty on Judgment Day? If you have done those things God sees you as a lying, thieving, blasphemous, adulterer at heart. The Bible warns that if you are guilty you will end up in Hell. That's not God's will. He sent His Son to suffer and die on the cross for you. Jesus took your punishment upon Himself -"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." Then He rose from the dead and defeated death. Please, repent (turn from sin) today and trust in Jesus, and God will grant you everlasting life. Then read your Bible daily and obey it.
(Thanks to Joe for the link)
Categories: Business/Finance, Religion
Posted by Alex on Tue Jun 13, 2006
Comments (114)
Status: Unusual Research
There's nothing hoaxy about this story. It's just another example of how non-rational people can be... especially investors in the stock market. Two Princeton researchers, Adam Alter and Danny Oppenheimer, have discovered that the ease with which a company's name and its ticker symbol can be pronounced has a strong short-term effect on the performance of its stock. In other words, "a stock with the symbol BAL should outperform one with the symbol BDL in the first few days of trading."
"We looked at intervals of a day, a week, six months and a year after IPO," Alter said. "The effect was strongest shortly after IPO. For example, if you started with $1,000 and invested it in companies with the 10 most fluent names, you would earn $333 more than you would have had you invested in the 10 with the least fluent." Alter said the pair of scientists had been careful to address the possibility that other factors were at play in the study. "We thought it was possible that larger companies might both adopt more fluent names and attract greater investment than smaller companies," he said. "But the effect held regardless of company size. We also showed that the effect held when we controlled for the influence of industry, country of origin and other factors."
In Hippo Eats Dwarf I noted a similar effect: that when investors think they've found the next big thing (be it railways, airlines, biotech, dot.coms, or nanotechnology) all stocks whose names seem to have something to do with those fields benefit, whether or not they actually do have something to do with those fields. Thus, in the recent nanotechnology crazy, Nanometrics (ticker symbol: NANO) shot up, even though it makes semiconductor tools and has nothing to do with nanotechnology.
Categories: Business/Finance, Psychology
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 02, 2006
Comments (4)
Status: Pyramid scheme unravels
Thanks to Joe for sending along some links about the ongoing downfall of BioPerformance, Inc. (discussed in the hoax forum in this thread about fuel additives). To summarize briefly: BioPerformance seems to be a classic case of a pyramid scheme. The people at the top of the pyramid were convincing suckers to pay for the privilege of selling little green pills that supposedly, when placed in a car's gas tank, yielded "vast improvements in mileage, performance and emissions". What BioPerformance wasn't telling anyone was that the pills were simply mothballs that didn't improve mileage and could actually ruin a car's engine. (Though oddly enough, according to the Dallas Observer article, mothballs can, under certain conditions, boost octane levels, which can help engine performance... but only when used in very carefully controlled amounts and in high-performance engines.) Sadly, in a classic example of cognitive dissonance, many of the BioPerformance faithful are refusing to admit they've been scammed. But thats always the way it is with con-artists and their victims.
Categories: Business/Finance, Con Artists
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 02, 2006
Comments (33)
Status: follow-up info about a hoax
image A month ago I posted about Plastic Assets, a faux credit card company offering free breast implants as a sign-up bonus. I noted that the site was an entrant in the Contagious Festival, a contest to create a high-traffic parody site. Now Plastic Assets has officially won the contest, receiving five times more visitors than its closest competitor. And the media, typically late to the party, are announcing that the site has just been revealed to be a hoax. (Even though I know I wasn't the only site to point out that this was a hoax last month.)

According to the CanWest News Service article, Plastic Assets was designed by Shari Graydon, author of In Your Face: The Culture of Beauty and You, and the site "attracted hundreds of female applicants and more than 130,000 visitors." Graydon concludes from this that "The degree to which our site was believed to be credible despite how over the top it was underlines the fact that people aren't bringing critical thinking skills to what they read on the Internet."

I agree that many people are too gullible about claims they encounter on the internet, but in this instance I'm skeptical about how many people really were fooled. I don't think there's any correlation between the number of visitors the site had, or even the number of applicants it received, and the amount of people who believed it to be real. I figure that most of its visitors recognized it as a joke, and probably filled out the application as a joke also.
Categories: Body Manipulation, Business/Finance, Websites
Posted by Alex on Thu Apr 06, 2006
Comments (4)
Status: Tax Scams
With April 15th fast approaching, taxpayers are once again scheming to dream up all kinds of deductions they can take. Bankrate.com has a list of some unusual ones (Thanks to Kathy for the link), such as:

• The guy who claimed his dog as a dependent
• The man who tried to claim a sperm donation as a 'depletion allowance'
• The furniture-store owner who hired an arsonist to burn his business down so that he could claim the insurance, and then deducted the $10,000 he paid the arsonist as a consulting fee.
• And the guy who tried to deduct dog food as a security expense (since, as he argued, his dog guarded his house)

In an article from last year, Buck Wolf of ABC News also listed some strange deductions such as body builders who can legally deduct baby oil, exotic dancers who can deduct the cost of their breast implants, and clarinet lessons which can be deducted as a health expense (if it helps you correct an overbite).

The strangest deduction I've ever claimed was for a stuffed jackalope. (Should I be admitting this where the IRS might read it?) My logic was that I was making money by researching hoaxes, so it was part of my research. Plus, I wanted the jackalope as a prop for when the New York Times came out to photograph me.
Categories: Business/Finance
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 04, 2006
Comments (17)
Status: Counterfeit currency
Reuters is reporting that U.S. Customs agents have apprehended a man who had 250 $1 billion bills stashed away in his apartment. The bills showed President Cleveland, and had an issue date of 1934. Figuring out that they were counterfeit was easy, since there is no such thing as a $1 billion bill. You have to wonder how he was planning to exchange them for real cash, since anyone stupid enough to accept them wouldn't have $1 billion in the first place. In fact, is it even a crime to possess obviously fake money? Don't a lot of places sell fake $1 million bills?

image In other strange currency news, fake "porn Euros" are apparently being mistaken for real money over in Europe: "The notes, in 300, 600 and 1,000 euro denominations have a ring of 12 hearts instead of the usual EU stars and feature hunky men and big-breasted nude women. Instead of the word 'Euro' being printed in the corner these notes have 'Eros' - the Greek god of love. But despite these differences - and the fact that the only large euro notes currently in circulation are 100s, 200s and 500s - police say they are being passed off as the real thing. Cologne newsagent Bernd Friedhelm, 33, accepted one of the fake 600 euro notes from an unknown customer who bought two cartons of cigarettes and walked off with 534 euros in change. Friedhelm said: 'He told me it was a new type of note and I just figured I hadn't seen one before.'" (Oh, and the full-size version of the thumbnail might not be safe for work.)

In Hippo Eats Dwarf I write about a similar case of porn Euros that circulated in 2002. I noted that: "German authorities discovered shoppers were using fake 300- and 1000-euro notes adorned with pictures of buxom naked women. The European central bank had given the firm Planet-Present permission to distribute the bills as a publicity stunt, never realizing people might think the sexy money was real." The 2002 case sounds awfully similar to the 2006 case. So similar, in fact, that the story kind of sounds like an urban legend.
Categories: Business/Finance
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 15, 2006
Comments (9)
Status: News article
I'm hesitant to post this, remembering that the last time I posted about fake doctor's notes I ended up with hundreds of comments from people asking me to provide them with fake notes. But here goes anyway. The Shanghai Daily has an interesting short article about the economics of the fake-sick-note industry in China. Apparently sellers of fake doctor's notes can be found outside of many Shanghai hospitals:

The price depends on the type of disease and duration of the sick leave. A note allowing two to three days of rest normally costs 20 (US$2.47) to 30 yuan. The price goes up if the person requires longer sick leave. Ailments on two-day fake notes are always fever and diarrhea. Fractures can be 40 to 50 days, said the reader, who bought a two-day note for 20 yuan.

I imagine the guys selling these notes must be like scalpers, lurking on the street corner, coming up to strangers ("Hey, buddy. Wanna buy a sick note?") I've never seen the equivalent in America. But then, I've never gone shopping for a fake sick note.
Categories: Business/Finance, Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Mon Mar 13, 2006
Comments (53)
Status: Hoax
image The Plastic Assets credit card company is making an attractive offer: free breast implants if you sign up for their card. They promise that "With a low APR and bigger breasts, you will be ready for anything!" And you also get free lip injections for every friend you refer.

The site is well designed — well enough designed to plausibly pass for an actual credit card company site. But it's a hoax. The site is part of the Huffington Post Contagious Festival (as you can find out if you scroll all the way down to the bottom of it), which is a contest to create a high-traffic site. There have been contests like this before. Remember the Contagious Media Festival, which produced Forget-Me-Not Panties (panties with a built-in GPS device so that jealous lovers could track the whereabouts of their wearer)? (Thanks to David for the link.)

Related Posts:
May 5, 2004: Invest In My Breast
Categories: Body Manipulation, Business/Finance
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 08, 2006
Comments (6)
Here's Bob's preliminary account of the powerball lottery hoax:

Alan Abel and I have been talking about doing something with the Powerball for the better part of a year now. It all came together really quickly last weekend when we heard that the record Powerball jackpot was finally won. A number of things came together that made this week just about perfect: It was a record amount; there was only one winner; it was won in a rural state which would make things seem less suspicious; Monday was a holiday, meaning that the lottery office would be closed, almost certainly buying us at least 24 hours to operate before the real winner surfaced.

This is just sort of the Reader's Digest version but I'll put something more comprehensive together for you on Thursday. I flew to Omaha on Sunday afternoon and arrived at midnight Central Time. Monday morning, Alan, his daughter's boyfriend Jeff (who was there to videotape the event and was playing my son) and a lovely woman named Nancy (who played my niece) headed over to Lincoln to set up. We found the convenience store where the ticket was sold; there were about a half-dozen TV satellite trucks outside it. We wanted to find a nice Mom and Pop-type restaurant not too far from there where we could operate.

On the same street, but across town, we found a Denny's-type place called The Village Inn. I walked in, introduced myself to the manager and gave him an envelope with $2000 in it, which I told him to use to pay for the check of everyone in the place. Within about 10 minutes, the first reporter, from a local radio station, showed up. I recorded an interview with him and he also did a live shot from there over his cell phone.

Next, I got a call from Good Morning, America which wanted to fly me to New York City immediately so I could be on their show the next morning. Obviously, I had to decline. Then the floodgates opened. Over the next 2.5 hours or so I was inundated with media. At one point, I had five TV cameras pointed at me, a radio reporter to my left and a print guy to my right. It was madness.

In time, though, the inconsistencies in my story started to show. Since I wasn't privy to the details of the real ticket, I had to make things up. I said that I bought one ticket; the lottery commission said, however, that the winner had bought five sets of numbers on one ticket. Also, I said that I thought that it was a man who sold me the ticket; in reality, it was a woman who sold it. And so forth.

Finally, we decided to head back to our hotel in Omaha. We weren't sure if the thing was going to have "legs" as they say, but it's only gotten crazier since then. I did a short interview over the phone with KPTV, Channel 12 in Portland, OR from the airport in Vegas. Today, I talked to a columnist in Des Moines, KPAM radio in Portland and I'm going to be on the Johnathan Brandmier show in Chicago early Thursday morning.

By the way, using the last name "Pagano" rather than "Pagani" was Alan's idea. His thought was that I HAD to use a different name since I'm fairly prominent on Google but if I used a totally different name, it was possible that one or more of my friends would see me and contact the media outlet to let them know that they got my name wrong. On the other hand, with only one letter off, they'd think that it was a simple typo and just let it pass. Good thinking.

I should mention that the whole venture was bankrolled by a guy named Joe Vitale, who has a website at joevitale.com. We couldn't have done it without his patronage.

So, that's the thumbnail version. I'm going to be putting together a longer narrative later, as soon as I (hopefully) get over the horrible virus which has infected everyone in my family and which is making it almost impossible for me to hear anything on my right side.
Categories: Business/Finance
Posted by Alex on Sat Feb 25, 2006
Comments (7)
Status: Hoax
Alan Abel has struck again, this time with the help of a regular here at the Museum of Hoaxes, Bob Pagani (aka Cranky Media Guy). Bob pretended to be the winner of the $365M Powerball lottery. (The real winners were a bunch of meat packers.) Apparently Abel helped behind the scenes. The action took place on Monday, but I didn't hear about it until today when I got an email from a reporter at the Des Moines Register asking me if I had heard about the Powerball Prank, and what I thought about it. A quick news search pulled up this article:

On Monday, a man who said he was an unemployed trucker from Omaha named Bob Pagano showed up flashing cash in Lincoln at a local Village Inn restaurant, claimed he was the winner and bought everybody in the place dinner. But Pagano said he had picked the winning numbers, while lottery officials said the winning numbers were a "quick-pick" generated by computer. Also, the photocopy of what Pagano claimed was the winning ticket said it was bought on Sunday, Feb. 17. Sunday was Feb. 19. The drawing was on Saturday, the 18th.
Alas, it was learned Tuesday that the man's name actually was Bob Pagani - not Pagano. Pagani is a cohort of Alan Abel, who has long been known around the world for putting on elaborate hoaxes. "Bob Pagani has been a confederate of mine for 25 years," Abel told The Associated Press.
Abel said he and Pagani noticed the gaffe on the date printed on the photocopy of the purported winning ticket just before launching their ruse.
"It was a goof," he said. Pagani said he'd been planning a Powerball hoax for about a year.
"He held court for about three hours at the Village Inn restaurant," Abel said. "He was swarmed."


More details from Bob himself should be forthcoming soon!

On a historical note, this isn't the first time Abel has engineered a lottery prank. He pulled the same prank back in 1990. On January 8, 1990 Charlene Taylor held a party at the Omni Park Central Hotel in mid-Manhattan to announce that she was the winner of the recent $35 million New York lottery. She told the media that the winning numbers had been revealed to her in a dream by Malcolm Forbes and Donald Trump as they flew around on a magic carpet. All of this was duly reported by the New York press. A day later the media realized that Taylor wasn't a lottery winner. She was actually an actress hired by Abel. The New York Daily News was the only paper not to fall for the hoax, because its reporter had recognized Abel standing in Taylor's hotel room.
Categories: Business/Finance, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed Feb 22, 2006
Comments (17)
Status: Hoax
In a dramatic move, the representatives of the state of Narnia have walked out of the WTO meeting in Hong Kong. AFX News issued this news release:

AFX News Limited
WTO MEETING - Narnia walks out of talks; says tired of EU, US 'bullying'
12.18.2005, 07:16 AM
HONG KONG (AFX) - The independent state of Narnia has walked out of trade negotiations here, citing pressure from the European Union and the US to enforce liberalization of its garment-related sector. Narnian spokeswoman Susan Aslan said in a statement that delegates 'were tired of bullying by EU and US delegations and would be returning immediately to their state capital at Cair Parvel.' 'If this brings the Hong Kong talks to the knees we will be delighted. Many other delegates told us they are sick of the eternal Lamy winter and are longing for a new trade spring,' Aslan said. The walkout was a first in this round of talks, and follows a similar move by some developing country delegates at the Cancun summit two years ago, the statement said.


This news release was then posted on Forbes.com, from which it has since disappeared (once Forbes realized it was a joke). I have no idea how it got uploaded to AFX News in the first place. (via The Disney Blog)
Categories: Business/Finance, Entertainment
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 20, 2005
Comments (6)
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