Hoaxes vs. Scams

Blog Posts

Another James O’Keefe’s Failed Trolling Op

by
Filed under: Creative Activism, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Legal Issues, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Propaganda and Disinformation, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

Score 1 for investigative journalism on James O’Keefe‘s botched attempt to discredit The Washington Post on behalf of a Senate candidate and alleged pedophile.


“A woman approached The Post with dramatic — and false — tale about Roy Moore. She appears to be part of undercover sting operation.”
By Shawn Boburg, Aaron C. Davis and Alice Crites
The Washington Post
November 27, 2017

A woman who falsely claimed to The Washington Post that Roy Moore, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama, impregnated her as a teenager appears to work with an organization that uses deceptive tactics to secretly record conversations in an effort to embarrass its targets.

In a series of interviews over two weeks, the woman shared a dramatic story about an alleged sexual relationship with Moore in 1992 that led to an abortion when she was 15. During the interviews, she repeatedly pressed Post reporters to give their opinions on the effects that her claims could have on Moore’s candidacy if she went public.

The Post did not publish an article based on her unsubstantiated account. When Post reporters confronted her with inconsistencies in her story and an Internet posting that raised doubts about her motivations, she insisted that she was not working with any organization that targets journalists.

But on Monday morning, Post reporters saw her walking into the New York offices of Project Veritas, an organization that targets the mainstream news media and left-leaning groups. The organization sets up undercover “stings” that involve using false cover stories and covert video recordings meant to expose what the group says is media bias. Read more.

First Responders to BS: Fact-Checkers are Heroes for Our Times

by
Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin, You Decide

Like at Snopes, the team at Politifact has its work cut out for it. Here’s a rousing rant from editor Aaron Sharockman.


“PolitiFact: The Power of Fact Checking in a Post-Truth World”
by Aaron Sharockman
Tampa Bay Times
June 7, 2017
Here’s a quick test: Think about how Donald Trump announced he was running for president. Now, do the same for Hillary Clinton.

I think most of you probably got one but not the other. We remember Trump and his wife Melania gliding down the Trump Tower escalator in June 2015. And we remember some of the things Trump said that day.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you,” Trump said. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

As for Clinton? (more…)

From Russian Satire to Serious (but Fake) News–a Flowchart

by
Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation

The NYT tracks an item from a Russian satirist to FOX News.


How Russian Propaganda Spread From a Parody Website to FOX News
by Neil MacFarquhar and Andrew Rossback
The New York Times
June 7, 2017

Born in the shadowy reaches of the internet, most fake news stories prove impossible to trace to their origin. But researchers at the Atlantic Council, a think tank, excavated the root of one such fake story, involving an incident in the Black Sea in which a Russian warplane repeatedly buzzed a United States Navy destroyer, the Donald Cook.

Like much fake news, the story was based on a kernel of truth. The brief, tense confrontation happened on April 12, 2014, and the Pentagon issued a statement. Then in April, three years later, the story resurfaced, completely twisted, on one of Russia’s main state-run TV news programs.

The new version gloated that the warplane had deployed an electronic weapon to disable all operating systems aboard the Cook. That was false, but it soon spread, showing that even with all the global attention on combating fake news, it could still circulate with alarming speed and ease.

In the days after the incident in the Black Sea, a Russian writer named Dmitri Sedov wrote an opinion piece, apparently meant to be satirical, that imagined the incident as an electronic warfare attack and described the panicked reaction of one crew member. Read the rest of the story here.


WhatsApp Fuels India’s #FakeNews Fire

by
Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Media Literacy, Political Pranks, Propaganda and Disinformation

India has a long history of politically motivated hoaxes and guerrilla propaganda. A popular messenger app has thrown it into overdrive.


“Viral WhatsApp Hoaxes Are India’s Own Fake News Crisis”
by Pranav Dixit
Buzzfeed News
January 19. 2017

The United States is currently experiencing a fake news crisis — bogus news articles disguised to look like real ones to mislead people, influence public opinion, and/or to simply use their massive reach to reap advertising profits. These operations are sophisticated, data-driven, and highly targeted. But in countries like India where internet penetration and literacy still lag far behind the US, misinformation tends to have a more grassroots quality. Twitter is a fertile ground for all kinds of rumormongering, but with just over 30 million users in the country, its impact is limited.

The primary vector for the spread of misinformation in India is WhatApp. The instant messenger is fast, free, and runs on nearly all of India’s 300 million smartphones. It’s also encrypted end-to-end, which means it’s nearly impossible to track what flows through it. Its real-world ramifications, nonetheless, can be brutal.

In November, WhatsApp rumors of a salt shortage sparked panic in at least four Indian states and caused stampedes outside grocery shops as people rushed to stock up. The government eventually debunked the rumours — but not before a woman died.

India’s misinformation problem predates the internet. In the early ‘90s, rabble-rousers in northern India trying to stir up tensions in Hindu and Muslim communities would mass-produce cassette recordings full of fake gunfire, screams, and chants of “Allah-ho-Akbar,” and then play them in car stereos at full volume in the dead of the night to incite communal violence. Read more.


Pizzagate: Cheesy Hand-tossed Lies

by
Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Fact or Fiction?, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation

The bizarre tale of Comet Ping Pong restaurant and “Pizzagate” provides a case study in how fake stories proliferate online.
Update: And now it’s somehow gotten darker.
Another update: There is now a direct link between the spread of Pizzagate rumors and the nascent Trump Administration.


“The saga of ‘Pizzagate’: The fake story that shows how conspiracy theories spread”
BBC
December 2, 2016

_92730809_pizzagate3

No victim has come forward. There’s no investigation. And physical evidence? That doesn’t exist either.

But thousands of people are convinced that a paedophilia ring involving people at the highest levels of the Democratic Party is operating out of a Washington pizza restaurant.

The story riveted fringes of Twitter – nearly a million messages were sent last month using the term “pizzagate”.

So how did this fake story take hold amongst alt-right Trump supporters and other Hillary Clinton opponents?

Let’s start with the facts.

In early November, as Wikileaks steadily released piles of emails from Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, one contact caught the attention of prankster sites and people on the paranoid fringes.

James Alefantis is the owner of Comet Ping Pong, a pizza restaurant in Washington. He’s also a big Democratic Party supporter and raised money for both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He was once in a relationship with David Brock, an influential liberal operative.

Alefantis – who’s never met Clinton – appeared in the Podesta emails in connection with the fundraisers.

And from these thin threads, an enormous trove of conspiracy fiction was spun. Read more.


How Your Fake Right-Wing News Gets Made

by
Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation, Satire

Fake news sites have been booming this year, and well before that. But the name “RealTrueNews” probably should have tipped off someone.


“This ‘Conservative News Site’ Trended on Facebook, Showed Up on FOX News – and Duped the World”
by Ben Collins
The Daily Beast
October 27, 2016

aotprealtruenewsMarco Chacon had only spent about $20 on his conservative news website, RealTrueNews, when he heard his words in prime time on Fox News’ The Kelly File.

“Yeah,” Chacon said. “That was an accident.”

Just as he’d done for the last few months, Chacon had read the latest explosive conservative news—this time it was Hillary Clinton’s leaked speeches to Wall Street banks—and typed up an imagined transcript of his own.

“So in the transcript, she’s explaining Bronies to the Goldman Sachs board of directors,” said Chacon. “Do you know what Bronies are?”

Bronies are hard-core, usually adult fans of the cartoon My Little Pony.

“In this one, [Bronies] are part of a threat of subalterns who are going to take over the election. And people believe all this,” he said. “And I’m just… I’m telling people, ‘How can you believe this!?’”

Somewhere in the middle of that block of text about My Little Pony, Chacon’s transcript contained the phrase “bucket of losers,” attributed, falsely of course, to Clinton, which legitimate conservative news websites picked up as real.

Sure enough, by 9 p.m. that day, Trace Gallagher was on Fox News telling viewers that Clinton had “apparently called Bernie Sanders supporters a ‘bucket of losers.’” (Megyn Kelly later apologized after the Clinton campaign vehemently denied Clinton said it.)

Taking official-looking documents at face value isn’t just burgeoning among alt-right media. It’s a tactic now endorsed by the Republican candidate for president. Keep reading.

Voter Intimidation Shenanigans Exposed

by
Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Legal Issues, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation

Here’s an inside look at the bullying and election fraud Donald Trump’s buddy Roger Stone had in mind for “certain areas.” Also, check out this really good guide to ways to prevent you from voting and what you should do about it.


“Trump Loyalists Planned Voter Intimidation Using Fake ID Badges, Fake Exit Polling – Until HuffPost Asked Them About It”
by Christina Wilkie
Huffington Post
October 25, 2016

aotpvoteprotectorsVote Protectors, the anti-voter-fraud group hosted by Donald Trump ally and political dirty trickster Roger Stone, plans to send volunteers to monitor polling places in nine cities with high minority populations on Election Day, Stone said last week. Untrained poll-watchers have intimidated voters in previous elections. But Vote Protectors is going further than its predecessors.

Stone’s group created an official-looking ID badge for its volunteers to wear, and its volunteers planned to videotape voters and conduct fake “exit polls,” efforts that election experts say risks intimidating and confusing voters. Or at least that’s what the group was planning to do before The Huffington Post asked Stone about it on Tuesday. The controversial Trump ally, long known for his bare-knuckled political tactics, said that key proposals on his group’s websites were there without his knowledge, and assured HuffPost that he would operate within the confines of election law.

Stone had initially refused to explain just how Vote Protectors planned to accomplish its goals. So on Monday, The Huffington Post responded to the group’s request for additional volunteers to work as “Exit Pollers and Citizen Journalists.”

Once registered, HuffPost used the site’s “I.D. Badge Generator” to create this badge, which could pass for an official credential to people unfamiliar with polling signage and rules. Read more.

Meet Trump Booster and Digital Chimera Steven Smith (R-GA)

by
Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation

Gullibility goes way up during election years.


“The Internet’s Favorite Congessman Is a Joke”
by Molly Taft
Medium
October 24, 2016

aotpssmithRep. Steven Smith of Georgia’s 15th District was the first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump and has been a vocal advocate for the candidate on Twitter. Two things, though: Georgia doesn’t have a 15th District and there’s no such congressman named Steven Smith. Meet the man behind the myth.

Two days after the third presidential debate, the right-wing internet is buzzing. The past week has been chock full of news fueling the rumors of an unfair election: The Podesta email dumps over the previous weekend were quickly followed by a video investigation into alleged bird-dogging at Trump rallies by DNC operatives, followed then by a report from the Center for Public Integrity titled “Journalists shower Hillary Clinton with campaign cash.” The Trump campaign’s new anti-corruption hashtag, #DrainTheSwamp, has caught on, and Representative Steven Smith, GA-15, wants to do his part to rally the base.

Using a photo editing app, Smith creates a collage of images familiar to conservative followers: a cartoon of Hillary Clinton being propped up by the mainstream media; an unflattering photo of the candidate mid-sneer; Clinton atop a pile of money. “It’s a #RiggedSystem,” Smith adds as a caption. “But we can beat it at the ballot box. #DrainTheSwamp.” Pro-Trump and anti-media content, which Smith tweets out on average over 60 times per day to over 20,000 followers, has energized his Twitter feed in recent months: @RepStevenSmith is already at 11.3 million impressions in the past 28 days alone. Read more.

Journalist Who Posed as Middle Eastern Tycoon Gets Prison Term

by
Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Legal Issues, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

UK journalist Mahzer Mahmood didn’t let ethics or truth get in the way of a hot scoop, and now he’s headed to prison. It’s a story that beggars belief, involving politics, pop star drug scandals, royalty real and fake. We’re left to wonder what’s up with the screen rights.


“British Reporter ‘Fake Sheikh’ Jailed for 15 Months”
by Danica Kirka
AP
October 21, 2016

aotpmazhermahmoodA judge sentenced a British journalist who often posed as a Middle Eastern tycoon in sting operations to 15 months in prison on Friday, after the tabloid reporter was convicted of perverting the course of justice in an effort to get scoops.

Mazher Mahmood, a tabloid reporter nicknamed the “Fake Sheikh,” was found guilty earlier this month of tampering with evidence in the collapsed drug trial of pop star and actress Tulisa Contostavlos. The case against Contostavlos originally was based on interviews Mahmood, 53, conducted for the Sun newspaper.

The Crown Prosecution Service is reviewing another 25 convictions linked to Mahmood’s work and has dropped active criminal cases in which Mahmood was to be a witness.

As he was led away to prison, a man in the crowd shouted, “Your turn now, Mazher.”

One of his most famous scoops involved the wife of Prince Edward, youngest son of Queen Elizabeth II. Edward’s wife. Posing as an aide to a Saudi Arabian prince interested in hiring her public relations company, Mahmood charmed Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, into making indiscreet comments about the British government in 2001.

The countess also was caught on tape describing then-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie, as “horrid, horrid, horrid.”

For the sting involving Contostavlos, Mahmood posed as a film producer and discussed a movie role with her that would have her share screen time with Leonardo DiCaprio. Prosecutors said Mahmood gave evidence to police that led to Contostavlos being charged with supplying illicit drugs. Continue reading.

Inside the Amazon Million Dollar e-Book Scam

by
Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Literary Hoaxes

In a complex whirlwind of a story, ZDNet digs into a bizarre tech scam involving bots, bad e-books, Amazon Kindle, Tor, and one unscrupulous engineer.


“Revealed: How one Amazon Kindle scam made millions of dollars”
by Zach Whittaker
ZDNet
September 27, 2016

Emma Moore could have been the health and weight loss guru you spent your life looking for.

aotp_kindlecatfishYou might be forgiven for not knowing her work — after all, she has a common name, one that she shares with other similarly successful authors on Amazon. Until this week, she had dozens of health, dieting, cooking, and weight loss ebooks to her name. She published over a dozen ebooks on Amazon this year — five ebooks alone this month. And Moore would even work with other authors — like Nina Kelly, Andrew Walker, and Julia Jackson — who have all published about a dozen ebooks each this year as well.

Here’s the snag: to our knowledge, Moore doesn’t exist. None of them do.

Moore was just one of hundreds of pseudonyms employed in a sophisticated “catfishing” scheme run by Valeriy Shershnyov, whose Vancouver-based business hoodwinked Amazon customers into buying low-quality ebooks, which were boosted on the online marketplace by an unscrupulous system of bots, scripts, and virtual servers.

Catfishing isn’t new — it’s been well documented. Some scammers buy fake reviews, while others will try other ways to game the system.

Until now, nobody has been able to look inside at how one of these scams work — especially one that’s been so prolific, generating millions of dollars in royalties by cashing in on unwitting buyers who are tricked into thinking these ebooks have some substance.

Shershnyov was able to stay in Amazon’s shadows for two years by using his scam server conservatively so as to not raise any red flags.

What eventually gave him away weren’t customer complaints or even getting caught by the bookseller. It was good old-fashioned carelessness. He forgot to put a password on his server. Read more.

Giving Hoaxing a Bad Name

posted by
Filed under: Hoaxes vs. Scams

Hoax earthquake SMS creates panic in northeast, Sify News, April 28, 2010

US veteran charged in airline bomb hoax, AFP, April 28, 2010

Hoax AMBER Alert spread quickly, ABC-7.com, April 28, 2010

Hoax ‘Death Calls’ Made to US Families, Military.com, April 22, 2010

Splinter Cell Publicity Stunt Almost Gets Someone Shot, everydaynodaysoff.com, April 20, 2010

image: windsun.com

The Net’s Most Heinous Hoaxes

posted by
Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Pranksters, Satire

Submitted by Eliane Arquin:


The Net’s Most Heinous Hoaxes
by Sarah Jacobsson
PC World

We look at some of the meanest (and a few of the funniest) hoaxes on the Web.

Most online hoaxes are mildly annoying, and a few are hilarious. But propagating a false Amber Alert over Twitter? Plastering an epilepsy forum with flashing images? Not cool. We’ll take a look at some of the Web’s most heinous hoaxes over the years, and sprinkle in a handful of amusing ones.

Twitter/Facebook Amber Alert

twitter-logo(3)-200The Amber Alert system — a child abduction alert system broadcast over radio, TV, satellite radio and other media whenever a child is abducted — was created after 9-year-old Amber Hagerman was abducted and murdered in Arlington, Texas, in 1996. Recently, some users have also broadcast alerts over text messages and Twitter.

Last July, someone tweeted an Amber Alert for a 3-year-old girl. People responded by spreading the alert as fast and as far as they could. It turned out to be a false alarm. A similar sequence of panicked, rapid-fire tweeting followed another false Amber Alert that occurred in September.

How heinous is this? Though we’re glad that no abduction occurred in either case, there’s a disturbing “cry wolf” aspect to the story — what happens the next time a real Amber Alert goes out? For eroding the value of a potentially vital line of defense against child abduction, this hoax sets the platinum standard for repugnance. (more…)

ADHD Investing

posted by
Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Sociology and Psychology of Pranks

Top 2009 Resolution: Don’t Be Stupid
by Daniel Henninger
Wall Street Journal
January 8, 2008

Bernard Madoff revealed our thoughtless ways.

adhd-investingBack in olden times, mankind found it useful to live by mottoes. A motto reduces the helpful lessons of life to three or four words, maybe two, as in the Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared. Or, apropos now: Look before you leap.

The most famous motto in our time has been Google’s Don’t Be Evil. I’m not sure what that means exactly, but here’s a motto for the next four or five years: Don’t Be Stupid.

It would not have occurred to me to posit Don’t Be Stupid as a motto for our times had not 2008 ended with the Bernard Madoff story. Up to then, we were all preoccupied with the economic meltdown that began in mid-September with the collapse of Lehman Brothers and other household gods of global finance.

The economic crisis, originating in the subprime mortgage lending phenomenon, was said to be complex. Madoff’s story, however, was simple. For years, uncounted numbers of the most sophisticated people here and in Europe conveyed to Mr. Madoff tens of billions of dollars because this solitary investor, unlike virtually every other professional investor, achieved returns in excess of 10% annually in all economic seasons. (more…)

The Gullibility Factor

posted by
Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Sociology and Psychology of Pranks

Why We Keep Falling for Financial Scams
by Stephen Greenspan
The Wall Street Journal
January 3, 2009

Intelligent people have long been ruined by frauds. Psychologist Stephen Greenspan, who specializes in gullibility, explores why investors continue to be swindled — and how he came to lose part of his savings to Bernard Madoff.

anatomyofgullibility

There are few areas where skepticism is more important than how one invests one’s life savings. Yet intelligent and educated people, some of them naïve about finance and others quite knowledgeable, have been ruined by schemes that turned out to be highly dubious and quite often fraudulent. The most dramatic example of this in American history is the recent announcement that Bernard Madoff, a highly regarded money manager and a former chairman of Nasdaq, has for years been running a very sophisticated Ponzi scheme, which by his own admission has defrauded wealthy investors, charities and other funds of at least $50 billion. (more…)

Big Foot, Big Fools: How Obvious Does It Have To Be?

by
Filed under: Hoaxes vs. Scams, Practical Jokes and Mischief

Submitted by Wayne Zebzda:

Frozen Sasquatch just a big rubber popsicle!


Researcher says bigfoot just a rubber gorilla suit
by Juanita Cousins
Associated Press
August 19, 2008

0619930300-200.jpgAtlanta (AP) — Turns out Bigfoot was just a rubber suit. Two researchers on a quest to prove the existence of Bigfoot say that the carcass encased in a block of ice — handed over to them for an undisclosed sum by two men who claimed to have found it — was slowly thawed out, and discovered to be a rubber gorilla outfit.

The revelation comes just days after a much ballyhooed news conference was held in California to proclaim that the remains of the creature were found in the North Georgia mountains was the legendary man-ape.

Steve Kulls, executive director of squatchdetective.com and host of Squatchdetective Radio, says in a posting on a Web site run by Bigfoot researcher Tom Biscardi that as the “evidence” was thawed, the claim began to unravel as a giant hoax. Read the rest of the story here.