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Scams
The BBC reports that a 60-year-old Korean man has been arrested for running "a private museum stuffed with fakes." He bought cheap artifacts from flea markets and then displayed them as ancient treasures. He claimed one of his fakes was a "Koryo Dynasty celadon." All in all, he managed to earn $443,000 from this scam through ticket sales.

Two things occur to me:

1) So people are assuming that most museums aren't full of fakes? The dirty little secret of the worlds of art and archaeology is that they're awash in fakes. And even when a museum owns the genuine artifact, it might not display the real thing for security reasons.

2) To play devil's advocate, what difference does it make if people see the real thing or a fake? The vast majority of audience members are unable to tell the difference. My theory is that when people visit museums to gawk at artifacts they don't understand, they're actually engaging in a form relic worship. And the power of the relic lies not in its authenticity, but in the belief in its authenticity.
Categories: History, Scams
Posted by Alex on Wed Oct 01, 2008
Comments (16)
Another case of the Collecting Junk for Charity hoax. Aleta Brace of Parkersburg, West Virginia collected 20,000 bottle caps, believing that the caps could be redeemed for money which would aid cancer patients. And she wasn't alone. Churches, schools, businesses, and individuals throughout West Virginia have been collecting the bottle caps all summer.

The caps would all have gone to waste, but now the Aveda skin care company has announced it'll take the caps and recycle them into new caps for its products.
Categories: Health/Medicine, Scams, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Sep 03, 2008
Comments (7)
Customers at Apple's online iPhone store recently had the opportunity to buy a program called "I Am Rich." True to its name, it cost $999.99.

The program, created by Armin Heinrich, a German software developer, displayed a large red ruby on the iPhone's screen. And that's it. Nothing else. The product description read:

"The red icon on your iPhone always reminds you (and others when you show it to them) that you were able to afford this. It's a work of art with no hidden function at all."

Eight people actually purchased the program before Apple removed it from the site. One of them complained that he bought it thinking it was a joke, only to discover a charge for $999.99 on his credit card.

This program walks the fine line between a prank and a scam. The concept is kind of funny, but Heinrich is apparently keeping the money that people paid. I wouldn't find that funny if it was my money.
Categories: Pranks, Scams, Technology
Posted by Alex on Mon Aug 11, 2008
Comments (13)
The Associated Press reports that the FBI has started cracking down on a widespread insurance scam in which hospitals fill up their beds with homeless people posing as patients, and then charge government programs for the costs.

Hospitals in Los Angeles and Orange counties submitted phony Medicare and Medi-Cal bills for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of homeless patients — including drug addicts and the mentally ill — recruited from downtown's Skid Row, state and federal authorities allege.
While treating minor problems that did not require hospitalization, such as dehydration, exhaustion or yeast infections, the hospitals allegedly kept homeless patients in beds for as long as three days and charged the government for the stays.

Put that together with this report from Jan 2008 which described how hospitals frequently employ fake patients in order to spy on doctors and check out whether they're doing what they should be. The problem is that sometimes the real patients in the emergency room are stuck in line behind the fake patients.

And let's not forget the 2006 case of the Norwegian doctor who invented case studies of 900 fake patients to pad out his study of whether aspirin could reduce the risk of oral cancer.

The conclusion: Fake patients are obviously an important, under-appreciated part of the modern health-care industry. (Thanks, Joe)
Categories: Health/Medicine, Scams
Posted by Alex on Fri Aug 08, 2008
Comments (2)
Horse thievery used to be a huge problem. After the American Civil War it became so rampant in the West that it inspired the creation of a vigilante group that called itself the Anti Horse Thief Association. This group had, at one point, 30,000 members.

But horse theft is something I thought became obsolete with the widespread adoption of automobiles. Apparently not. Authorities in Tennessee are warning of a modern-day horse theft scam. People are showing up at farms claiming to be from Horse Haven (a humane organization for horses). They say they're there to take away the horses. Horse Haven does occasionally seize horses, if the horses are being neglected or harmed, but a Horse Haven spokesman says, "Horse Haven representatives always have ID, we operate within the law, and we never try to seize horses without law enforcement present."

If you have a horse, be on the lookout for these guys.
Categories: Animals, Con Artists, Scams
Posted by Alex on Tue Jul 15, 2008
Comments (4)
The Daily Record reports on a stupid counterfeit scheme that almost worked:

A FORGER convinced a cashier a £20 note was real - despite Santa Claus and his reindeer being on it. Stacey Rice's self-made Santa Christmas Bank note promised to pay the bearer nothing and listed Santa as the bank's "chief operating officer" with his address as the North Pole. But Rice, 27, was still able to pass it off as genuine in an "astonishing" scam, a court heard. She duped a gullible cashier at a gym and the woman gave Rice change of the £20 in smaller denominations.

It reminds me of the phony $200 George Bush bills that people often try to pass off. Here's a question to ponder: Is it dumber to accept a bill with George Bush on it, or Santa Claus?
Categories: Business/Finance, Scams
Posted by Alex on Tue Jun 17, 2008
Comments (7)
A man posing as a deputy stole nearly $1000 from an Ohio couple by telling them they had to hand over the money so that his dog could sniff it for drug residue. From AP News:

the fake deputy knocked on the Waverly, Ohio, couple's motel room door last week. The man told the couple a drug raid just happened next door and a police dog needed to sniff all of their money. Kuzinsky says the couple handed over the money and the fake deputy got into a small gray car and drove off. Kuzinsky says the man flashed some sort of identification and pretended to talk into a handheld radio during the robbery.

The guy got lucky that the couple had $1000 in cash on them.
Categories: Scams
Posted by Alex on Tue Jun 10, 2008
Comments (1)
A Salt Lake City news station exposes a panhandling scam. Or, rather, one panhandler scammer -- a young woman who leaves her parents' house every morning to stand on a street corner and beg for money. She tells people she was kicked out by her boyfriend just a week before Christmas and she's trying to earn enough to buy a bus ticket back to Seattle:



It reminded me of Alan Abel's long-running "School for Beggars" hoax, from the 1970s and 80s. He claimed to be running a school that taught people how to panhandle professionally. The media, of course, ate it up because they love to play on people's fears that beggars are taking advantage of them.
Categories: Scams
Posted by Alex on Tue Jun 10, 2008
Comments (15)
Todd Davis, CEO of LifeLock, claims his company offers such a high level of identity-theft protection that he's willing to advertise his own social-security number. (It's 457-55-5462.) He's that sure no one is going to be able to steal his identity. Many criminals are quite happy to take him up on the challenge. From Yahoo! News:

Davis acknowledged in an interview with The Associated Press that his stunt has led to at least 87 instances in which people have tried to steal his identity, and one succeeded: a guy in Texas who duped an online payday loan operation last year into giving him $500 using Davis' Social Security number.

Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear was recently involved in a similar situation. He published his bank account code, claiming it was impossible for people to use it to steal money from him. Someone promptly used it to create a direct debit from his account.

The bigger issue, says attorney David Paris who's participating in a class-action suit against Lifelock, is that the company charges people $120 a year for an ineffective service: "Paris noted that LifeLock charges $10 a month to set fraud alerts with credit bureaus, even though consumers can do it themselves for free."

I get a couple calls a month from my credit card company trying to sell me their identity theft service. The last time they called (about two days ago) the telemarketer launched into her sales pitch and then suddenly yawned loudly in my ear. I appreciated the sentiment but hung up on her. I always hang up on telemarketers. Anyway, it seems to me that identity-theft services are a waste of money. I'd rather be careful and hope nothing happens, rather than guarantee I'll lose money by paying it to a protection company while still being at risk of identity theft.
Categories: Advertising, Scams
Posted by Alex on Thu May 22, 2008
Comments (11)
Eighty-three people have been rounded up by federal officials in Florida and accused of participating in sham marriages. A company called All Kind Services was staging fake weddings, complete with props, so that the couples could have photographs of their "wedding day" to show officials. From the Orlando Sentinel:
The four-tiered cake the newlyweds were about to cut was plastic. The glasses and plates on the reception table were empty. And the bride wore casual shoes under her wedding gown. Those were among the clues that caught the attention of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials after they searched the offices of Winter Garden-based All Kind Services U.S.A. in August 2005. In a back room were the cake, the fake reception hall and a rack with several wedding dresses.
"The cake is the first clue," said Mark Garrand, assistant special agent in charge of ICE in Orlando. "It's not real. The glasses [on the table] are not filled. And the running shoes are a nice touch, too." Investigators soon realized that the photos and props were identical in many of the 25 marriage cases they were probing.

(Thanks, Joe)
Categories: Scams, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Sat May 10, 2008
Comments (3)
A novel twist on the money-multiplying scam. From Reuters:

A Vietnamese man in Norway lost around 35,000 dollars after he was led to believe that mixing the cash with a special liquid would double its value, Norwegian media reported Saturday...
The victim of the con, who was not identified, was reportedly told by the Frenchman to leave a mixture of real cash with blank bills to marinate in a special liquid overnight, and the next morning he would have double the amount of cash at his disposal.
But when he showed up the next morning to collect his prize, both the cash and the suspected con-artist, whose name was not revealed, had disappeared.

I've never heard of con-artists employing a marinade to grow money, but "money-making machines" used to be a popular scam. Carl Sifakis describes this scam in Hoaxes and Scams:

[Count Victor Lustig] became the leading practitioner of the so-called money-making machine. He told suckers he had invented a process that permitted him to feed plain paper into a machine and turn it into currency so perfect that no one could tell it from the real thing. There was good reason for this, since the "counterfeit" that spewed out of the contraption was real money. The success of the outrageous swindle was in its telling. Lustig sold the machine over and over again to such diverse characters as businessmen, bankers, gangsters, madams and even small-town lawmen.
Categories: Scams
Posted by Alex on Sat May 10, 2008
Comments (8)
Father Francesco Saverio Bazzoffi, a priest in Florence, is being investigated for fraud for performing "fake exorcisms." From the Catholic News Agency:

Prosecutors alleged that Father Francesco Saverio Bazzoffi would “stage shows” before crowds of more than 400 people at the House of the Sainted Archangels, an organization he founded.
According to prosecutors, the priest’s associates would “pretend to be possessed by demons” and Father Bazzoffi would allegedly exorcise them using obscure rites.
The priest would then offer to heal members of the audience who were sick and solicit donations to his organization.
“During Mass, the priest spoke in Aramaic, and strange things happened. I do not know if it was group hysteria or our suggestibility, but I remember one old woman screaming in a man's voice while five big guys held her down,” one witness told police, according to the Telegraph.

So as long as he can prove that his associates really were possessed by demons, he should be able to beat the charges.
Categories: Religion, Scams
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 07, 2008
Comments (7)
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