Fraud and Deception

Blog Posts

New York Teenager Confesses to Not Being a Millionaire

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Media Pranks, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Pranksters

The December 15, 2014 issue of New York magazine reported that 17-year-old Mohammed Islam brought down $72 million swapping stocks between classes, but the story quickly dissolved into a mixture of journalistic credulity and outright bullshit. After a cancelled TV appearance and protests from his fellow members of the high school Leaders Investment Club, Islam comes clean in a chat with the New York Observer.


“New York Mag’s Boy Genius Investor Made It All Up”
by Ken Kurson
The New York Observer
December 15, 2014

fullsizerender4It’s been a tough month for fact-checking. After the Rolling Stone campus rape story unraveled, readers of all publications can be forgiven for questioning the process by which Americans get our news. And now it turns out that another blockbuster story is—to quote its subject in an exclusive Observer interview — ”not true.”

Monday’s edition of New York magazine includes an irresistible story about a Stuyvesant High senior named Mohammed Islam who had made a fortune investing in the stock market. Reporter Jessica Pressler wrote regarding the precise number, “Though he is shy about the $72 million number, he confirmed his net worth is in the ‘high eight figures.’” The New York Post followed up with a story of its own, with the fat figure playing a key role in the headline: “High school student scores $72M playing the stock market.”

And now it turns out, the real number is… zero.

In an exclusive interview with Mr. Islam and his friend Damir Tulemaganbetov, who also featured heavily in the New York story, the baby-faced boys who dress in suits with tie clips came clean. Swept up in a tide of media adulation, they made the whole thing up.

Speaking at the offices of their newly hired crisis pr firm, 5WPR, and handled by a phalanx of four, including the lawyer Ed Mermelstein of RheemBell & Mermelstein, Mr. Islam told a story that will be familiar to just about any 12th grader—a fib turns into a lie turns into a rumor turns into a bunch of mainstream media stories and invitations to appear on CNBC.

Here’s how it happened. Read more.

Catching Up With Serial Fabulist Stephen Glass

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy

Hanna Rosin attempts to square up with her former bestie, one of American journalism’s most notorious bullshitters.

Bonus: Longform.org has a confounding collection of essays on frauds in journalism.


“Hello, My Name Is Stephen Glass, and I’m Sorry”
By Hanna Rosin
The New Republic
November 10, 2014

He nearly destroyed this magazine. Sixteen years later, his former best friend finally confronts him.

shattered-glass2

The last time I talked to Stephen Glass, he was pleading with me on the phone to protect him from Charles Lane. Chuck, as we called him, was the editor of The New Republic and Steve was my colleague and very good friend, maybe something like a little brother, though we are only two years apart in age. Steve had a way of inspiring loyalty, not jealousy, in his fellow young writers, which was remarkable given how spectacularly successful he’d been in such a short time. While the rest of us were still scratching our way out of the intern pit, he was becoming a franchise, turning out bizarre and amazing stories week after week for The New Republic, Harper’s, and Rolling Stone—each one a home run.

I didn’t know when he called me that he’d made up nearly all of the bizarre and amazing stories, that he was the perpetrator of probably the most elaborate fraud in journalistic history, that he would soon become famous on a whole new scale. I didn’t even know he had a dark side. It was the spring of 1998 and he was still just my hapless friend Steve, who padded into my office ten times a day in white socks and was more interested in alphabetizing beer than drinking it. When he called, I was in New York and I said I would come back to D.C. right away. I probably said something about Chuck like: “Fuck him. He can’t fire you. He can’t possibly think you would do that.”

I was wrong, and Chuck, ever-resistant to Steve’s charms, was as right as he’d been in his life. (more…)

Spreading Fear for Profit

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hoax Etiquette

Fake news sites are using Facebook to spread Ebola panic
by Josh Dzieza
The Verge
October 22, 2014

They call themselves satire sites, but they’re really spreading scary rumors for profit

There’s a scary story bouncing around Facebook, accruing hundreds of thousands of likes: the small town of Purdon, Texas, has been quarantined after a family of five was diagnosed with Ebola. The story is a total hoax, put out by a deeply cynical site called the National Report. But to the 340,000 people who saw it pop up in their news feed, it looked real enough to share.

“We’ve seen stories on satire sites — fake news sites — getting tremendous traction because they feed on people’s fears,” says Craig Silverman, the founder of Emergent.Info. “It’s really becoming an epidemic now.” Silverman launched Emergent with Columbia’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism last month to track the spread of rumors online in real time. Many of the stories he’s seen have been organic rumors, things like the pumpkin spice condom or the 50-foot crab that begin life as jokes, get taken out of context, are written up in news stories, and take off on Facebook before anyone bothers to verify them. But he’s finding that a surprising number, especially when it comes to Ebola, are deliberate attempts to deceive. “I’ve had people emailing me about the Purdon story, very scared, asking if it was true,” says Silverman.

Emergent's chart of the spreading Purdon hoax. Green represents shares linking to the hoax, red represents shares debunking it.

Emergent’s chart of the spreading Purdon hoax. Green represents shares linking to the hoax, red represents shares debunking it.

(more…)

Fame on a Budget

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Instructionals, Media Pranks, Pranksters

From Mark Borkowski:


How to become internet famous for $68
by Kevin Ashton
Medium.com

The secret of online celebrity Santiago Swallow.

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Santiago Swallow may be one of the most famous people no one has heard of.

His eyes fume from his Twitter profile: he is Hollywood-handsome with high cheekbones and dirty blond, collar-length hair. Next to his name is one of social media’s most prized possessions, Twitter’s blue “verified account” checkmark. Beneath it are numbers to make many in the online world jealous: Santiago Swallow has tens of thousands of followers. The tweets Swallow sends them are cryptic nuggets of wisdom that unroll like scrolls from digital fortune cookies: “Before you lose weight, find hope,” says one. Another: “To write is to live endlessly.”

His Wikipedia biography explains why: (more…)

Scientific Genius or Scientific Fraud?

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception

Ivory Tower Phony? Sex, Lies and Fraud Alleged in W. Va. University Case
by Nona Willis Aronowitz and Tony Dokoupil
NBC News
September 2014

West Virginia University

He seemed like the Doogie Howser of India, able to crack the country’s best medical school, and work there as a 21-year-old doctor. Anoop Shankar later claimed to add a Ph.D. in epidemiology and treat patients even as he researched population-wide diseases. He won a “genius” visa to America, shared millions in grants, and boasted of membership in the prestigious Royal College of Physicians.

In 2012 West Virginia University hand-picked this international star to help heal one of the country’s sickest states. At just 37, Shankar was nominated to the first endowed position in a new School of Public Health, backed by a million dollars in public funds. As chair of the epidemiology department, he was also poised to help the university spend tens of millions of additional tax dollars. “This is about improving healthcare and improving lives,” said university president Jim Clements, announcing a federal grant for health sciences. “We could not be more proud.”

But there was a problem: Shankar isn’t a Ph.D. He didn’t graduate from the Harvard of India. He didn’t write dozens of the scholarly publications on his resume, and as for the Royal College of Physicians, they’ve never heard of him. He does have a master’s degree in epidemiology from the University of North Carolina and an Indian medical degree, but at least two of his green card references—attesting to “world class creativity,” “genius insight,” and “a new avenue for treating hypertension”—were a forgery.

Watch video: “A Sad Fact of Modern Research,” Adam Marcus, Co-Founder Retraction Watch and read the rest of this article here.

Flappybird Photo Hijack

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Hoax Etiquette, Legal Issues

In case you think the risque photos on your Android phone are secure…


Hackers plotted fake Flappy Bird app to steal girls’ photos from Android phones
by Graham Cluley
September 6, 2014

Next time you install an app on your phone, you’d best think twice if it asks permission to access your photos.

As The Guardian reports, following a tweet from security researcher Nik Cubrilovic, the very same hackers who merrily collected naked photos of more than 100 female celebrities, including Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence, had plotted a variety of dirty tricks to increase their haul.

At least one hacker openly posted on the AnonIB image board, proposing what he called a “genious” idea: (more…)

Eavesdropping via Fake Cell Towers

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Filed under: First Amendment Issues, Fraud and Deception

Can you hear me now? In case you still thought you had personal privacy…


Fake Cell Towers Allow the NSA and Police to Keep Track of You
By Lauren Walker
Newsweek
September 5, 2014

phony-towers-425

The Internet is abuzz with reports of mysterious devices sprinkled across America—many of them on military bases—that connect to your phone by mimicking cell phone towers and sucking up your data. There is little public information about these devices, but they are the new favorite toy of government agencies of all stripes; everyone from the National Security Agency to local police forces are using them.

These fake towers, known as “interceptors,” were discovered in July by users of the CryptoPhone500, one of the ultra-secure cell phones released after Edward Snowden’s leaks about NSA snooping. The phone is essentially a Samsung Galaxy S3 customized with high-level encryption that costs around $3,500. While driving around the country, CryptoPhone users plotted on a map every time they connected to a nameless tower (standard towers run by wireless service providers like Verizon usually have names) and received an alert that the device had turned off their phone’s encryption (allowing their messages to be read). Read the rest of this article here.

The Art of Human Hacking

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fraud and Deception

Patrick Howell O’Neill reports from Def Con 2014 in Las Vegas, where he witnesses an odd sort of game: Social Engineering Capture the Flag.


Inside the Super Bowl of Lying
by Patrick Howell O’Neill
The Daily Dot
September 2, 2014

Nobody can find a seat, the room is so packed. The boisterous audience, undeterred, crowds against the walls and lies down on the floor at every edge of the room to catch the action. A line of people stretches out the front door.

Social engineering capture the flag

via social-engineer.org

This is the 2014 Def Con hacker conference at the Rio Casino in Las Vegas. The people are in one of the tiniest rooms in the casino to see the Super Bowl of lying.

The Social Engineering Capture The Flag contest was launched by Christopher Hadnagy in 2009. This year, nine teams of two players each are given a long list of goals that can only be accomplished through skillful lying and manipulation. The contest has been going on for five years, but most of the crowd, listening in rapt attention, is experiencing it for the very first time.

Hadnagy has another name for social engineering: “The art of human hacking.” While almost all of Def Con is dedicated to the art of computer hacking, this event targeted the mind. (more…)

World Class Literary Deception

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes

Celebrity biography readers beware. David Cay Johnston catalogs how one best-selling author, C. David Heymann, who wrote books of historical significance about world leaders and A-class celebs, filled his pages with inaccuracies and downright scurrilous fabrications.


C. David Heymann’s Lies About JFK and Jackie, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor
by David Cay Johnston
Newsweek
August 27, 2014

C. David Heymann’s Lies About JFK and Jackie  Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor-425

He had been dead for over two years, but he still had a magic touch with readers.

When best-selling author C. David Heymann’s latest (and last) book, Joe and Marilyn: Legends in Love, came out in July, it received the kind of reviews most authors would kill for. The Columbus Dispatch called it an “engrossing portrait.” The Christian Science Monitor and the New York Post raved. Kirkus Reviews said it was “a well-researched story” revealing the “profoundly unethical behavior of the medical and mental health professionals who dealt with [Monroe].” The popular Canadian magazine Maclean’s praised Heymann’s research, finding “his sources credible.”

The publisher, a subsidiary of media behemoth CBS, says Joe and Marilyn tells “the riveting true story” of the lusty, tempestuous and brief marriage between the Yankees slugger and the iconic actress. In this and his previous 10 books, Heymann served up intimate details no other celebrity biographer could match. It was often titillating and sometimes shocking stuff. In Joe and Marilyn, Heymann wrote that DiMaggio beat Monroe, wiretapped her home and stalked her by skulking around in disguises, wearing a fake beard and for hours holding up a copy of The New York Times so no one would notice him in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria hotel.

(more…)

Celebrity Scammers Hiding In Plain Sight

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception

In one of its trademark listicles, Cracked spotlights five famous frauds who have been pretty much forgiven by the public.


“5 Successful People Who Everyone Forgets are Exposed Frauds”
by Sammy Trujillo
Cracked.com
August 25, 2014

James O'Keefe

James O’Keefe (via Getty Images)

“Making a career out of ripping people off takes a special kind of asshole. But to make a career out of defrauding the general public, get exposed as a fraud, and then keep right on defrauding people as if nothing ever happened takes a special kind of asshole with balls of industrial steel. Either that, or a sociopathic lack of self-awareness. Here are five people who just can’t stop making shit up (and are inexplicably rewarded for it).”

Swatting Ringleader Meets His Demise

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Phone Pranks, Pranksters

People do a lot of things with phones. Some are harmless and potentially amusing. Others can get you tossed in the slammer.

Photo by Eric Richardson

Swatting falls into the latter category. It involves providing an emergency service like 911 with a false tip that provokes an armed police raid on the home of an innocent (and likely terrified) person, be it a personal enemy, a celebrity, or just some guy. These hoaxes are a particular menace for the LAPD, since they happen so often to Hollywood stars.

On Tuesday, Jason Allen Neff pled guilty to running a ring of swatters in various locations. Neff, as it happens, has a long and storied career of hacking activities dating back to the ’90s. He awaits sentencing and faces five years in federal prison. The hostage faker seems poised to become a hostage of his own making.

photo: Eric Richardson, Creative Commons

Political Hacktivism, Iran Style

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Political Challenges

Iran Is Using a Neocon to Hack Its Foes
Daily Beast
by Eli Lake
May 29, 2014

John Bolton, the former U.N. ambassador under George W. Bush, is playing an unexpectedly prominent role in an Iranian cyberspying campaign.

john-bolton-hacked-425

In Iran’s intelligence war against America, the regime has a new weapon: “John R. Bolton.”

No, Iran has not turned President Bush’s former ambassador to the United Nations into a sleeper agent. Instead, hackers believed to be connected to the Tehran government are posing as Bolton on social media platforms in a scheme to get human rights activists and national security wonks to hand over their passwords and user names.

Read more here.

Facebook Fraud

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception

From Emanuele: Veritasium takes a break from his wonderful science videos to dig into the realities of Facebook “likes.” Finally, someone provides insight into ever declining user engagement with Facebook. Is this the somber sound of a social network death knell?


Watch the video:

Flappy Bird Fakes

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hype

From Joe King: Flappy Bird game creator, Dong Nguyen, unceremoniously removed his hugely successful app from app stores, however, Graham Cluley reports: Criminals appear to be selling fake flappy bird games. This is probably a bigger threat to western civilization than NSA’s encroachments.

flappy-bird

Regardless, speculation abounds about why he removed the game from play.

  • ‘Flappy Bird’ creator cites ‘addiction’ for pulling game, USA Today
  • Then, there’s this from Jefferson Graham, also of USA Today:

    Watch the video:

    Ask The Fiddler #22: Costly Cures for Imaginary Illnesses

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    Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Satire

    fiddler-75Editor’s Note: Ask The Fiddler is a lifestyle advice column that aims to remedy more chaos and confusion than it creates. Questions may be submitted to us here at Art of the Prank, and good luck.


    Dear Fiddler,

    I have a headache that starts in my toes, I’m allergic to my allergy meds, and my boomerang won’t come back. What remedy do you suggest?

    Barry in D.C.

    Dear Barry,

    Obviously you need a hearty dose of that legendary scourge of internal corruption, Dr. Fiddler’s Electro-Cleanse Elixir, completely recyclable and manufactured under strict sanitary conditions when circumstances permit, available at the side door at the conclusion of this essay. Two dollars for the bottle.

    stethescopeOn the other hand, you could undoubtedly improve your condition if you would quit watching TV medical ads and cease asking the Internet for a diagnosis.

    Those ads and questionable posts can be hazardous to your health. Experts say “exposure to advertising that sells a fantasy of flawless health, perfect skin, clockwork bowels, extended youth and perpetual cheerfulness in the face of disappointment, aging, money woes” … “can create expectations and perceived needs that lead to unnecessary and expensive drug consumption.”

    Of course the drug companies argue that their ads are educational. The U.S. and New Zealand are the only countries where drug companies can advertise directly to consumers. It is estimated that every ad dollar spent by Big Pharma yields a four dollar boost in sales of prescription drugs. (more…)

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