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Con Artists
Well, this was brought to my attention by both Outeast and Goobermaster (Thanks, guys.) and, now that I have a new computer that's able to show videos without shutting down, I can see why.

Aleksey Vayner sent his resume to an investment bank. He's going to be a class of '07 Yalie, and he's looking for a job. Fair enough. However, along with the resume and covering letter he attached a video. That would be when the fuss started. The IvyGate blog - one which covers events in the Ivy League - posted the video on YouTube. (Although they were forced to remove the video, it can still be seen as part of the October 6th blog post.)

The video in and of itself is bad enough - I cannot imagine anyone being undecided as to whether to hire him then, on the strength of it, deciding they would. The details about this man that came out afterwards are even less inviting.

Firstly, Vayner Capital Management LLC. (The site is now mysteriously unavailable.) Seems he's CEO of this company. Before the site was removed, the overwhelming similarity of some of the content to that of Denver Investment Advisors was noted. There is no proof of his company ever having existed.

Secondly, his Youth Empowerment Strategies charity. Despite there really being a Youth Empowerment Strategies charity, his is not it. Vayner's charity claims to have four stars from Charity Navigator, a guide to which charities are real, and which are not. Charity Navigator say that this is not true, and are considering legal action against him.

Thirdly, he lists on his resume a self-published book, Women's Silent Tears, about a gendered view of the holocaust. Before he removed the listing from lulu.com, it was found that the entire section on euthanasia was lifted from the online Holocaust Encyclopedia.

There are a number of comments from people who knew him on the IvyGate blog, mentioning various other stories he'd used. My favourite one has to be:
"I played for Yale tennis, and he tried to walk on the team. He got cut the second day. I had one conversation with him, and he claimed to have KILLED 24 people in the caves of Tibet."
Categories: Con Artists
Posted by Flora on Thu Oct 12, 2006
Comments (20)
image The latest in the long series of what are known as 'Nigerian Scams' is one featuring bulldog puppies.

Three red flags went up when Mindy Gorman enquired after a $500 bulldog advertised on the Savannah Morning News website. When she emailed the sellers, they replied with an announcement that the puppies had been sold, but:

"... You're lucky to have mailed at this time because the puppy has just been placed on adoption by one of my customers, who went on a veterinarian work transfer with the West African veterinarian commission Lagos Nigeria, West Africa. He is giving the pup up for adoption because he cant take good care of the pup due to his busy and tight state of work. All he wants is someone that's homely and with a good christian home to adopt this young and lovely human best friend."

Then there was the fact that the seller was in Nigeria. Thirdly, when she offered to pay to the transport of the puppy using Pay Pal, the seller, who identified himself as 'Pastor Harry', said that he would only accept a $500 payment sent to Lagos via Western Union.

Ms Gorman did not go through with the transaction, but another customer in the area lost $900 on the scam.

Jeff Thomas, with the Savannah office of the U.S. Secret Service, was unaware of the Nigerian puppy scam. But the details, including the offer of English bulldogs in a state where the biggest football mascot is the same breed, didn't surprise him.
"These folks are not dumb," he said. "They may do their homework in terms of regional interest. People here are nuts about Georgia football."
Thomas suggests puppy lovers approach any Nigerian offers with skepticism.


The website no longer runs the advertisement.
Categories: Animals, Con Artists
Posted by Flora on Mon Oct 09, 2006
Comments (398)
Was Robin Hood Welsh?
American historian claims Robin Hood was Welsh, not English. Also that his real name was Bran. "He claims Robin would not have been able to hide out in Sherwood Forest because it would have been too small and well chartered." The Nottingham City Council says: "We laugh at this suggestion."

Pastor Indicted For Faking Raffles
We've learned not to trust internet lotteries. It looks like church lotteries are going the same way: "Rev. Robert J. Ascolese... would call out the names of fictional people as grand prize winners, then pocket the money or divert it to pet charitable projects. Either way, it meant nobody had a real chance to win."

Fake John Meets Fake Cop
An undercover cop solicits a prostitute, who then (falsely) claimed to be a police officer. She even pulled out a two-way radio and asked for reinforcements. "We believe these people were going to rob people or extort money," the police said after arresting her.

Man Fakes Son's Illness By Keeping Him Thin
Michael Bradway claimed his son had cystic fibrosis and managed to raise $38,000 from sympathetic relatives. He "put the child on a severe diet to make him thin." What is wrong with the human race that it produces people like this?
Categories: Con Artists, History
Posted by Alex on Mon Sep 25, 2006
Comments (6)
imageA man identifying himself as Rob Valenti claimed to have been the guitarist for REO Speedwagon and managed to con two men out of hundreds of dollars.

On Saturday, he contacted real estate agents, saying he was interested in purchasing property as a tax investment. After they'd showed him properties from $800,000 upwards, he started preliminary paperwork on at least two properties, before the agents bought him dinner and arranged for him to have a room for the night.

That evening, he met with two men and two women at a local restaurant and managed to persuade them he wanted to buy them cars, which he'd use as a tax write-off.

He took the two men to several car dealerships and started the paperwork on three cars. He then persuaded the men to give him $300 apiece for 'documentation fees'.

On Sunday, both the car dealerships and the real estate agents began to get suspicious of Rob's identity when they failed to be able to contact him, and called the police. The two men learnt, on the Monday, that the cars had never been paid for. They, too, contacted the police.

Only at this point did they think to check up on the story 'Rob' gave. Band websites for REO Speedwagon showed no band members, previous or current, with the name 'Rob' or 'Valenti'.

The suspect is described as about 6 feet, 4 inches tall, with a thin build and gray hair. He walks with a distinctive limp and told at least one witness it was due to hip replacement surgery. His photo is being distributed by investigators.

Police are seeking any information on the suspect’s identity or whereabouts or information from anyone else who may have had contact with the suspect.
Categories: Con Artists
Posted by Flora on Wed Sep 20, 2006
Comments (4)

Q-Ray Made To Pay
Remember the Q-Ray bracelet? There was a thread about it in the old forum. This "miracle bracelet" could do everything from curing arthritis to helping you win a marathon. Now a judge has slapped its inventor with a $22.5 million fine for false advertising. Turns out it couldn't do any of that stuff after all. Who would have thought?

Woman Robs Bank With Toy Gun
Another Stupid Criminal. Or perhaps a criminal suffering from senile dementia. A 79-year-old woman "walked into the Bank of America branch Tuesday morning and told a teller that she'd just come from the dentist and could only speak quietly... As the teller leaned in, Cooke whispered a demand for $30,000 and brandished a gun that turned out to be a toy, the affidavit says. Instead of handing over any money, however, the teller triggered a silent alarm and walked away. Cooke left empty-handed after several minutes and then ducked into a nearby store, where she was arrested. Officials said Cooke was dressed for the attempted heist in a black trench coat, sunglasses and a white "Princess" visor."

image Fire Truck Tops Dome
MIT students commemmorated 9/11 by placing a fake fire truck on top of the university's Great Dome. I have a short list of other things that have topped the dome here.

Attacked By Naked Men
"Dallas - A former city official who is under investigation in an FBI corruption probe was arrested for public intoxication after claiming he was robbed by naked and scantily clad attackers at a male strip club... Police said he told them he was attacked by three men, one naked and another in only a towel." Big Gary comments: "Who says Dallas doesn't have class?"
Categories: Con Artists, Law/Police/Crime, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed Sep 13, 2006
Comments (11)

Do you want to be a gigolo?
Malaysian men promised that, for a fee, they can become well-paid gigolos. It's the old dream job scam. One sucker "was told to meet a client at a city hotel. He waited for hours until he spotted a Western women who seemed to be searching for someone. 'I thought she was my client so I approached her and introduced myself. To my surprise, instead of receiving words of welcome, I got cursed and insulted,' he told the daily."

Dumb Robber #1
Forgets to bring bag for money as he robs bank. Consequently ends up dropping most of the money during the getaway.

Dumb Robber #2
Man attempts to hold up bank. Finds out the building he's in is not a bank. He thought it was because of the presence of an ATM machine.

Lost Candy Bars
If you're a fan of Lost, you might want to try some Apollo Candy Bars, being distributed at events across the country. The Apollo Candy Company is a subsidiary of The Hanso Group, which should be familiar to Lost fans. I should add Apollo Candy to my list of Lost-related hoax websites.

Church ponders possible balloon hoax
On July 23 the Gibbsville Reformed Church in Wisconsin released 600 balloons into the air. Attached to the balloons were tags saying, "When you find me, please send a note to my church." The Church soon received word from Indiana and Kentucky of found balloons. Then a tag was returned to them from China. The pastor is suspicious: "We're thinking it may be just somebody's idea of a joke, which puts us in a little bit of a bad spot. Just the fact that it wasn't signed was somewhat suspicious. There's probably some good sermon (material) in here somehow."
Categories: Con Artists, Entertainment, Law/Police/Crime, Religion
Posted by Alex on Mon Aug 28, 2006
Comments (11)
Status: Ponzi Scheme
Chilean police have arrested a pair of con artists who had constructed an elaborate pyramid scheme based on the sale of "magic cheese". OhMyNews reports:
The fraud consisted in selling people packs of "Yo Flex," a powder that, she claimed, would ferment milk into a special cheese. Giselle said that this "Magic Cheese" was the latest fashion in France, where women used it as a skin cosmetic, and which in Africa was used as a food supplement...
In Chile, a pack of Yo Flex sold for US$500, but chemical analysis determined that the powder was a dairy ferment worth only US$4. Mella and Jara told victims that Yo Flex should be mixed with milk and that the cheese should be returned to Fermex, which would export it to France and Africa. The agents promised the people that they would double their money in three months. Initially, Fermex did pay victims profits, but this was a ploy to convince more to invest their money. Soon, many were investing sums ranging from US$5,000 to US$40,000. Many would sell their cars or property or get bank loans to buy the packs of Yo Flex.
Ponzi would have been proud. I think someone should collect samples of all the worthless junk that's been sold through Ponzi schemes (magic cheese, bioperformance pills, etc.), and then display it all in a Ponzi Museum. Or this would be a cool gallery to have in an actual Museum of Hoaxes, should such a thing ever come into existence. (Anyone want to donate a million dollars or so to help me build it?)
Categories: Con Artists, Food
Posted by Alex on Fri Jul 21, 2006
Comments (16)
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: 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: News
76-year-old William Winikoff of Coconut Creek, Florida has been charged with lewd and lascivious conduct for posing as a doctor and offering women free breast exams. Remarkably, he duped at least two women with this scam:

Carrying a black “doctor’s” bag, investigators claim Winnikoff walked up to a apartment building and told a 36-year-old woman, that he was in the neighborhood offering free breast exams. According to police, the woman let Winikoff into her apartment and the phony doctor began the exam, touching first her breasts, and then, her genitals. The woman quickly realized that Winikoff was not a real doctor and she called 911, but the fake doctor had already left her apartment to find another victim; a 33 year old woman who lives in the same apartment complex.

The Smoking Gun has some more details about this case.

It may sound like a stupid scam, but variations of it seem to happen more often than you would think. And the perpetrators always manage to find women who will fall for it. For instance, in October 2002 Zachariah Scott, a Toronto hospital employee, was charged with telling women in the obstetrics ward of Mount Sinai Hospital that he was a 'lactation consultant,' and then examining their breasts. No one realized anything was amiss until one of the women asked a nurse if she could see him again. She was told that the hospital only had female technicians.

Even weirder was the case, reported by Portuguese newspapers in 2002, of a woman who phoned other women and told them about a revolutionary new technology that allowed breast examinations to be conducted by satellite. All they had to do, she told them, was stand topless in an open window and a passing satellite would conduct a mammogram. Every woman who was contacted complied with the strange instructions. One woman even stripped entirely naked. The phone would then ring again, but instead of getting their mammogram results, the phony doctor would describe her sexual fantasies to the women in graphic detail.
Categories: Con Artists, Health/Medicine, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 19, 2006
Comments (17)
Status: Insurance Scam
When I was in elementary school, I often heard a rumor that if you ate chalk you could fake the symptoms of being sick, and thus not have to go to school. I never tried it, but this couple seems to have taken the same idea and advanced it a step further:

A couple has been charged with filing fraudulent insurance claims that said they had eaten glass found in their food at restaurants, hotels and grocery stores, federal prosecutors said... The couple used aliases, false Social Security numbers and identity cards, and in some cases, had eaten glass intentionally to support their insurance claims, prosecutors said. The glass did not come from the food they had bought, prosecutors said.

On the other hand, this couple could also suffer from hyalophagia, a medical disorder characterized by the eating of glass. (Thanks to Joe Littrell for the link)
Categories: Con Artists, Food
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 17, 2006
Comments (2)
Status: Typosquatter
My wife just discovered this. If you misspell museumofhoaxes.com by switching he 'e' and the 'u' in museum (a very easy mistake to make), you'll arrive at The Musuem of Hoaxes, which contains links to info about museums. It's obviously a site created by a spammer hoping to profit off of people who are trying to get to the Museum of Hoaxes, but who aren't great spellers. I probably shouldn't link to this alternative version of the Museum (I'm only sending more traffic to the spammer), but I'm kind of flattered that someone thought it was worth their time to create this. According to Larry Adams, author of Fraud In Other Words, this kind of practice (registering misspelled domain names) is called typosquatting:

Typosquatting is the intentional use of misspelled domain names and meta tags to misdirect Internet traffic or revenue from one Web site to another. It is based on the probability that a certain number of Internet users will mistype the URL or name of a Web site. Typically, a typosquatter registers several possible input errors for a Web site of a famous company, brand name or celebrity known for its high traffic. The typosquatter monitors the bogus sites to see how many clicks a day each of their "typo" domain names receives, and uses the information to sell advertising for the sites that receive a high volume of accidental traffic. Advertising revenue might come from selling ads to the original site's competitors or by providing redirect pages to gambling and porn sites.
Categories: Con Artists, Websites
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 17, 2006
Comments (13)
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