Fraud and Deception

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Facebook Fights the Fakers

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Prank News, Urban Legends

From duplicitous “satire” to malicious BS, Facebook helps people spread untrue stories. With a new step in the sustained controversy over its algorithms and curatorial practices, the big blue giant is now taking measures to cut some of the crap.


“Facebook to roll out tech for combating fake stories in its trending topics”
by Sarah Perez
Techcrunch
September 14, 2016

aotp_facebookFollowing the controversial firing of the editorial team who managed the Trending Topics that appear next to Facebook’s News Feed, the company is now actively working on technology that will help prevent fake news stories from showing up in the Trending section. Similar systems have been rolled out to News Feed in recent months, and now that same technology is making its way to Trending, said Facebook’s News Feed head, Adam Mosseri, at TechCrunch Disrupt SF this morning.

The social network came under attack earlier this year for allegedly suppressing conservative news from appearing in the Trending Topics section. While it was later discovered that this was largely due to individual judgement, not institutional bias, the company took the heavy-handed measure of letting the entire team of Trending Topics news curators go.

Explained Mosseri, Facebook made this decision because “we wanted to be clear – in the wake of a lot of feedback – about our role and the role of people in the Trending product.”

That being said, the remaining product, which is now entirely driven by algorithms, has become much worse, many say. It has even allowed fake news stories to show up as trending topics – something a human-powered editorial team would likely catch.Read more.


The Strange Case of JT LeRoy

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Hype, Literary Hoaxes, Prank News, Publicity Stunts

JT LeRoy was widely presumed to be a gay prostitute from West Virginia who became the toast of NYC art-hipsterdom on the strength of his autobiographical books. The problem was that he didn’t exist at all – he was a character invented by a frustrated failed writer named Laura Albert and played by a friend of Albert’s in a blonde wig. Frauds and fabulists ran amok in the Bush years, and LeRoy’s unmasking didn’t garner the same attention and schadenfreude as the downfalls of rouge reporter Jayson Blair or manly-man poseur James Frey. But as a new documentary explores, his story was a hell of a lot weirder.


“JT LeRoy doc explores absorbing literary scandal”
by Lindsey Bahr
AP
September 7, 2016

downloadTo the general public, the name JT LeRoy probably rings only the vaguest of bells, if any at all. It didn’t for this particular critic. But that innocent ignorance is all the more reason to seek out the documentary “Author: The JT LeRoy Story ,” a fascinating peek into one of the wildest literary scandals in recent years and the bizarre nature of celebrity relationships. Director Jeff Feuerzeig’s film, while undeniably one-sided, will have your mind spinning with questions about authorship, authenticity, art and fame.

Read more.


Can Snopes Keep Up with the BS?

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Propaganda and Disinformation, Urban Legends

Our friends Barbara and David Mikkelson have been separating facts from fakes since 1995, when the internet looked like it might be a fad. Their immensely popular and credible argument-settling website Snopes.com has held steady against a rising tide of digital lies. But in the era of Reddit, Twitter, and Trump, David admits that he sometimes feels a tad overwhelmed.


“Can mythbusters like Snopes.com keep up in a post-truth era?”
by Rory Carroll
The Guardian
August 1, 2016

davidmikkelsonThe most scenic way to find truth on the internet is to drive north of Los Angeles on the Pacific Coast Highway, blue ocean foaming to the left, sunlit hills cresting to the right, until Malibu Canyon Road, where you take a sharp right and wind for a few miles through the oak-lined knolls and dips of Calabasas, past gated estates that are home to the likes of Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian and Mel Gibson, and keep going until you reach an odd-looking wood-and-brick house with a US flag on the porch: the home of David Mikkelson.

It feels like a good jumping off point for a hike, or a pony trek. But really it is the ideal place to explore fibs like whether Hillary Clinton stole $200,000 in White House furnishings, or whether Donald Trump called Republicans the “dumbest group of voters”, or whether Black Lives Matter protesters chanted for dead cops, or whether Nicolas Cage died in a motorcycle accident, or whether chewing gum takes seven years to pass through the digestive system, or whether hair grows back thicker after being shaved, or, if you really, really must know, whether Richard Gere had an emergency “gerbilectomy” at Cedars-Sinai hospital.

Mikkelson owns and runs Snopes.com, a hugely popular fact-checking site which debunks urban legends, old wives’ tales, fake news, shoddy journalism and political spin. It started as a hobby in the internet’s Pleistocene epoch two decades ago and evolved into a professional site that millions now rely on as a lie-detector. Every day its team of writers and editors interrogate claims ricocheting around the internet to determine if they are false, true or somewhere in the middle – a cleaning of the Augean stables for the digital era.

“There are more and more people piling on to the internet and the number of entities pumping out material keeps growing,” says Mikkelson, who turns out to be a wry, soft-spoken sleuth. “I’m not sure I’d call it a post-truth age but … there’s been an opening of the sluice-gate and everything is pouring through. The bilge keeps coming faster than you can pump.” Read more.


The Strange Saga of Melania Trump’s Speechwriter

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Prank News

In one of many remarkable moments in this year’s Republican National Convention, potential First Lady Melania Trump delivered a speech blatantly plagiarized from incumbent First Lady Michelle Obama. A little-known Donald Trump speechwriter named Meredith McIver showed up to take the blame, sparking conspiracy theories. And things have stayed weird.


“Who’s Impersonating Melania Trump’s Plagarist Meredith McIver?”
by Gideon Resnick
The Daily Beast
August 2, 2016

meredith-mciver-melania-trump-8Meredith McIver, a former ballerina turned Donald Trump co-author, is definitely a real person. But her social media persona, which came into being after she took the blame for Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech, definitely is not.

The account @imeredithmciver began tweeting on July 20, the day after Melania Trump’s prime-time Republican National Convention speech was upended by the revelation that she had cribbed some lines from an address by Michelle Obama at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. And it is still posing as McIver to this day, with no comment or pushback from the Trump campaign.

As the campaign is in the throes of daily sparring with a Gold Star family, fire marshals, and even the speaker of the House, there’s been no acknowledgment of the fake social media presence of McIver, who told The Daily Beast she has no online presence. Multiple people have emailed The Daily Beast claiming to have some knowledge about the mysterious appearance of the account, ranging from abject satire to claims the Trump campaign is actually behind it.

“I just wanted to set the record straight. @realDonaldTrump is a wonderful man,” the account tweeted just as McIver was getting roped into the burgeoning scandal. With her social media proclamation, the account included a photoshopped image of McIver and Trump standing next to each other in his office. (more…)

Pokemon Go Crime Wave… Not

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Filed under: All About Pranks, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hype, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The World of the Prank

In less than a week, Nintendo’s new mobile game Pokemon Go has become a 2016 pop-culture phenomenon. (It is, you see, pretty much the only recent news item that isn’t wildly depressing.) With all the hype, think-pieces, newsjacking, and Facebook-sharing, some skepticism was lost in the shuffle.


“The Man Behind the Pokemon Crime Wave”
by Ben Collins and Kate Briquelet
The Daily Beast
July 11, 2016

wigglytuffAmerica is going crazy for the new game—crazy enough to kill, if you believe all the stories on Facebook. But the bloodbath is fake, and The Daily Beast tracked down the man behind it.

At CartelPress.com, the death toll from the first weekend of Pokémon GO is still piling up.

If you’re to believe that website, the new augmented reality game that has users walking into public parks and streets to catch Pokémon—and is nearing as many daily active users as Twitter—is responsible for a bloodbath. A teen killed his brother over a low-rent Pokémon called a Pidgey, the site reports. Countless were left dead on a Massachusetts highway when a 26-year-old stopped in the middle of the road to catch a Pikachu, it also alleges. And now, on CartelPress.com, the so-called Islamic State widely known as ISIS is claiming credit for the biggest Pokémon tragedy of all: rampant server issues.
Unbelievable.

No, really. It should be unbelievable. But 10,000 people shared that first story on Facebook. More than 64,000 shared the last one. And the Pokémon highway accident? Three hundred eighty-four thousand shares on Facebook in a couple of days.

And none of them are real.

CartelPress is just one part of the Pokésteria.

Now gamers on other sites are fooling people into donating to a Texas-based Uber driver who claims he witnessed a murder scene while trawling for Pokémon over the weekend—even though that murder scene, just like the rest of these stories, never existed.

That didn’t stop plenty of reputable news agencies from recycling the Satanic Panic-esque stories that were always too good to be true. The Atlantic referenced the highway death in the middle of its story “The Tragedy of Pokémon GO.” The New York Post did the same.

There are plenty more. Pablo Reyes almost caught ’em all. According to the 26-year-old internet prankster—who flooded America’s elevators and drive time radio shows with fake Pokécrime he invented on CartelPress, a new site he created—it’s all one big coding mistake. Read on for the interview.

James O’Keefe’s Phone Prank Fail (and the Rise of the Professional Political Pranksters)

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Political Pranks, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation

Starting with an astounding botched sting operation from James “ACORN Pimp” O’Keefe and his team Project Veritas, The New Yorker goes in depth exploring the status of American political dirty tricks in a particularly nasty and absurd election year.


“Sting of Myself”
by Jane Meyer
The New Yorker
May 30, 2016

As Dana Geraghty recalls it, March 16th was a “rather quiet Wednesday.” That afternoon, she was in her cubicle at the Open Society Foundations, on West Fifty-seventh Street, where she helps oversee the nonprofit group’s pro-democracy programs in Eurasia. The Foundations are the philanthropic creation of George Soros, the hedge-fund billionaire, who is a prominent donor to liberal causes, including Hillary Clinton’s Presidential bid. Soros, who has spent nineteen million dollars on the 2016 Presidential campaign, is regarded with suspicion by many conservatives. National Review has suggested that he may be fomenting protests against Donald Trump by secretly funding what it called a “rent-a-mob.”

Geraghty, who is twenty-eight, had programmed her office phone to forward messages from unfamiliar callers to her e-mail inbox. She was about to review several messages when she noticed that one of them was extraordinarily long. “Who leaves a seven-minute voice mail?” Geraghty asked herself. She clicked on it.

AOTP_OKeefe“Hey, Dana,” a voice began. The caller sounded to her like an older American male. “My name is, uh, Victor Kesh. I’m a Hungarian-American who represents a, uh, foundation . . . that would like to get involved with you and aid what you do in fighting for, um, European values.” He asked Geraghty for the name of someone he could talk to “about supporting you guys and coördinating with you on some of your efforts.” Requesting a callback, he left a phone number with a 914 area code—Westchester County.

She heard a click, a pause, and then a second male voice. The person who had introduced himself as Kesh said, “Don’t say anything . . . before I hang up the phone.”

“That piqued my interest,” Geraghty recalls. Other aspects of the message puzzled her: “Who says they’re with a foundation without saying which one? He sounded scattered. And usually people call to get funding, not to offer it.” Victor Kesh, she suspected, was “someone passing as someone else.”

She continued to listen, and the man’s voice suddenly took on a more commanding tone. The caller had failed to hang up, and Kesh, unaware that he was still being recorded, seemed to be conducting a meeting about how to perpetrate an elaborate sting on Soros. “What needs to happen,” he said, is for “someone other than me to make a hundred phone calls like that”—to Soros, to his employees, and to the Democracy Alliance, a club of wealthy liberal political donors that Soros helped to found, which is expected to play a large role in financing this year’s campaigns. Kesh described sending into the Soros offices an “undercover” agent who could “talk the talk” with Open Society executives. Kesh’s goal wasn’t fully spelled out on the recording, but the gist was that an operative posing as a potential donor could penetrate Soros’s operation and make secret videos that exposed embarrassing activities. Soros, he assured the others, has “thousands of organizations” on the left in league with him. Kesh said that the name of his project was Discover the Networks. Read more.


YouTube Pranksters Jailed

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Legal Issues, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Prank News, Pranksters

The rise of YouTube has shifted the way people think about media, fame, and, definitely, pranks.

YouTube’s “user-created content” has always been conspicuously subject to Sturgeon’s Law, but over time, its most popular and influential celebrities have concentrated their power while newcomers have found it harder and harder to break through.

“YouTube pranksters” generally perform “social experiments” (read: wacky stunts) in public, preferably for unwitting audiences. As their attention economy becomes more stratified, certain performers have become increasingly confrontational and occasionally felonious.

The UK-based channel TrollStation operates on the genre’s outer fringes. TrollStation affiliates have violently broken the law and alienated some in the YouTube community before, but achieved peak notoriety with two fake museum heists on July 5, 2015, that just landed three (more) of them behind bars. Their sentences were light – 20 weeks is nothing for genuine art theft or violent B&E – and their case was complicated by the fact that, although they definitely horrified innocent bystanders, they didn’t actually steal anything.

Upon release, they can doubtless expect increased viewership.

For the details, read Katie Rogers’ May 19, 2016 article in The New York Times, “When YouTube Pranks Break the Law”.


The NYT Interviews Russian Pranksters Who Aren’t President of Anything

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters

The New York Times did a phoner with two dudes posing as embattled Ukrainian President Poroshenko and indirectly give us the delightful new term “pranker.”


“Two Russian men pranked the The New York Times by giving a US journalist an interview posing as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko”
by Staff
Sputnik News
April 13, 2016

1027247581Russian prankers [sic] Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov, more commonly known as Vovan and Lexus, spoke with The New York Times journalist Carol Giacomo pretending to be Petro Poroshenko.

The prankers spoke with the journalist about the president’s business and his involvement in the recent Panama Papers leak. They assured The New York Times that Poroshenko is a law-abiding citizen who always pays all of his taxes and cares for his country.

Kuznetsov and Stolyarov went even further when after the interview they called The New York Times back and said the interview, in fact, wasn’t done with Poroshenko, but with a phony who wanted to discredit the newspaper for its recent article which called Ukraine a “corrupt swamp.”

In other words, the prankers fooled The New York Times again, this time simultaneously discrediting Poroshenko’s administration. Read more.

We’re Gonna Need More Enthusiasm

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fraud and Deception, Hype, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Pranksters

Davy Rothbard of Found fame profiles a company that hires out fake crowds. H/t Dave Pell.


“Crowd Source: Inside the company that provides fake paparazzi, pretend campaign supporters, and counterfeit protesters”
by Davy Rothbard
The California Sunday Magazine
March 31, 2016

scale-2000x0x0x0-0403ffcrow-1459210886-6

When he can, Adam trains his hired crowds himself, but more often he relies on local coordinators who manage the events. In Los Angeles, Del Brown — the woman I met at the Marriott — is Adam’s point person. Del moved to California in 2012 to pursue an acting career and soon landed a Doritos commercial, but after that, she mostly found work as an extra in student films and small indie projects. She worked a gig with Crowds on Demand, and Adam was so impressed he immediately put her on staff. Del has established a wide network she can reach out to when she needs, say, 60 crowd-fillers for a party on the roof deck of the W Los Angeles hotel or a 6-foot-6-inch man in a leather kilt to act as a fan at the launch of a book about S&M culture. Many of Del’s recurring crowd members are background actors she’s met on film sets, yet she is continually trawling for fresh faces.

At the Marriott, I’d met Jackie Greig, who typifies the crowd members Del and Adam often hire. Jackie is 50 years old, a film student at Los Angeles City College. A teacher had shared a posting about what she thought was an upcoming film shoot that was looking for paid help. Jackie showed up at the Marriott only to discover that this was not a film shoot. Yes, she was being asked to aim her camera at the life coaches, but whether she hit record was immaterial. On one hand, Jackie was frustrated. She’d skipped class and driven more than an hour to be there. On the other hand, after a couple of hours, she’d made $37.50 and could now afford a Foo Fighters concert for her daughter. “I just wish they’d been more transparent about what the gig really was,” Jackie tells me.

If you’re hiring a crowd to fill a campaign event or a film premiere, the last thing you want to do is let anyone know.

The tricky thing, Adam says, is how many of his clients insist on secrecy. If you’re hiring a crowd to fill a campaign event or a film premiere, the last thing you want to do is let anyone know. Adam must balance his goal of spreading awareness of his company, so he can attract more clients, with the benefits of keeping the public in the dark. If people start to doubt the veracity of crowds, his business might suffer. “Right now, we’re still kind of this secret weapon,” Adam says. “We have the element of surprise. Yeah, you might’ve heard about political candidates paying to bring some extra bodies into their campaign events, but it’s beyond the realm of most people’s imagination that crowds are being deployed in other ways. Nobody is skeptical of crowds. Of course, in five years that could change.”

Adam says he gives Del wide latitude to recruit crowd members. Most often, she presents the gigs as background acting work. This is only slightly misleading: Crowd members won’t bulk up their IMDB profile, but being part of a fake crowd is a kind of acting. In a world where everybody is constantly playing a part, staging moments to be broadcast later on social media, the line between counterfeit and authentic has become blurred. Is curating a version of yourself on Facebook any less fake than pretending to be a superfan of a life coach? Read more.


The Big Lie Continues…

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Propaganda and Disinformation

It’s clear that if you say anything loud enough and often enough, people who want to believe you will believe you… whether or not it’s true. The Big Lie propaganda technique is a tried and true tactic. Planned Parenthood is only one of its recent victims. As the election season heats up, finding any truth anywhere will be almost impossible.


Republicans Are Legislating Based On Fake Videos. Should Someone Tell Them?
by Laura Bassett
Huffington Post
September 18, 2015

The House passed a pair of bills related to Planned Parenthood funding and “abortion survivors” on Friday.

woman in supermarketWASHINGTON — In the second GOP presidential debate Wednesday night, candidate Carly Fiorina passionately described a graphic scene from an undercover video of Planned Parenthood in which a fetus that survived an abortion waits, its “heart beating” and “legs kicking,” for a technician to harvest its brain. On Friday, House Republicans passed a pair of bills inspired by the same videos: One measure would defund Planned Parenthood and another would protect “abortion survivors.”

The problem is, the videos are so heavily edited that they bear little resemblance to reality, and the scene Fiorina described doesn’t exist.

She was most likely referring to the video in which Holly O’Donnell, a former procurement technician for a biomedical company, talks about having seen a fully formed aborted fetus, with its heart still beating, in a pathology lab. The video doesn’t show any footage from the scene, but instead shows a graphic image of someone holding a small fetus in their hands. That image is not an aborted fetus, as the video suggests. Rather, it was taken from the blog of a woman named Alexis Fretz, who miscarried at 19 weeks and posted images of her still-born baby online. (more…)

Morally Outraged Hackers Publish Ashley Madison Secrets

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Spin

Red Woman's LipsThe hackers responsible for stealing supposedly secure data from Ashley Madison, the website for married people looking for extramarital trysts, appear to have a conscience. They’re moralists. But not about their actions.

Kim Zetter of Wired reports, “The hackers deflected responsibility for any damages or repercussions that victims of the breach and data dump may suffer.”

AshleyMadison-Data-Dump

Read Kim’s whole Wired article here


STEM, Social Engineering and Stealing

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Legal Issues

The Kernel delves into the hidden subculture of liars, thieves, and hackers who expose and exploit gaping loopholes in e-commerce via Jonah (not his real name), someone who’s been there and back.


“Confessions of a social engineer”
by Dell Cameron
The Kernel
August 9, 2015

serialcodegenerator…Part theater and part science, social engineering is the method by which hackers, for lack of a better term, exploit vulnerabilities in human psychology; for Jonah, it was a key to getting anything he wanted, from televisions and laptops to smartphones and expensive wines. One of his largest takes netted him around $60,000 worth of product, he says. He showed me a Rolex Daytona watch—part of a gallery of stolen goods he’d photographed in his bedroom—which retails on Amazon for around $26,000.

Whether through face-to-face interaction, by phone, or by email, the human gatekeepers of any network can be exploited—if you know how to play the game. They’re the weakest link in any company’s security.

Almost every major electronics company is vulnerable in nearly the same way: They all have warranty-based replacement systems that can be exploited. Most companies, for instance, don’t require a defective item to be returned before mailing out its replacement. It’s likewise difficult to prove that an in-warranty item has been lost or stolen.

Through repeated phone calls, social engineers develop strategies for navigating a company’s customer help line. They get a feel for which sob stories and which “yes” or “no” responses will work best toward achieving their objective. Intelligence, temperament, and even humor all come into play. The questions and responses are then mapped out, as if composing a flowchart, with the goal of expediting the con. Read the whole article.


Loverly Delusion

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception

This Is What It’s Like To Fall In Love With A Woman Who Doesn’t Exist
by Patrick Smith
BuzzFeed
May 24, 2015

Leah Palmer was a high-flying fashionista with a jet-setting lifestyle and a host of admirers on social media. But her entire existence was a fraud – a multiyear hoax that depended on stealing someone else’s life. BuzzFeed News tells the extraordinary story.

longform-32066-1432312839-3

Images from Leah Palmer’s Instagram account, @LeahPalmerFashion. Instagram

Leah Palmer was a hard girl to pin down. She worked in fashion and had a jet-setting lifestyle that took her around the world. She would often enthusiastically arrange to meet her friends and male admirers, only to pull out at the last minute. She’d get ill at the worst moments, or have family crises.

“Whenever we had arranged to meet, there was always an excuse,” says Justin, a semiprofessional athlete who developed a friendship – and then a relationship – with Leah. (Justin is not his real name; he spoke to BuzzFeed News under condition of anonymity.)

Images from Leah Palmer’s Instagram account, @LeahPalmerFashion. Instagram
“Given her apparent career in fashion, she was supposedly away a lot with work,” he says. “She pulled at the heartstrings a little, claiming the death of her brother, and various other family tragedies, throughout the time we were in contact. So I often gave her the benefit of the doubt when it came to meeting up.”
The pair started flirting in July 2012 and tweeted each other several times a day. They spoke regularly on the phone and would use Skype – but never via a video call, because Leah’s camera was invariably broken. Leah would occasionally put her mother Scarlett on the phone to speak to Justin.

He knew, he tells BuzzFeed News, that something didn’t add up. “She always seemed to have answers and was able to cover her tracks rather well – speaking to friends, having an international dial tone when away, being very knowledgeable about her industry, posting things on social media. But obviously the fact that you could never tie her down to a time and place to meet would sound alarm bells.”

Read the whole story here.

Looking Back at Some Superstar Scambaiters

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Fraud and Deception, Pranksters, The History of Pranks

419 scams (a/k/a “NIGERIAN PRINCE” emails) have long, long fascinated certain quarters of the internet. They’ve flooded inboxes with outsider poetry and inspired satire and scambaiting, a prankish and dangerous literary subgenre explored at length in the fascinating work of journalist Eve Edelson.

Craigslist killers, social media “catfishing” scams, and the internet vigilantes of Anonymous now get much more attention, making 419ers look like relics, at least by internet standards. And yet, great work still emerges from the scambaiter milieu.

Here’s the absurd story (from 2013) of how a few intrepid 419-eaters orchestrated the cover of Vice, for posterity.


“How We Got the Skammerz Ishu Cover”
By Mishka Henner
Vice
December 17, 2013

Scam-baiting is a form of internet vigilantism in which the vigilante poses as a potential victim to expose a scammer. It’s essentially grassroots social engineering conducted as civic duty or even amusement, a cross-cultural double bluff in which participants on separate continents try to outdo each other in an online tug-of-war for one’s time and resources – and the other’s private banking information.

The baiter begins by “biting the hook” – answering an email from the scammer. The “victim” feigns receptivity to the financial lure, engaging the scammer in a drawn-out chain of emails. The most important element of baiting is to waste as much of the scammer’s time as possible – when a scammer is preoccupied, it prevents him from conning genuine victims.

Vice Skammerz IshuThe cover of the issue you’re looking at is a trophy from the most elaborate bait I’ve ever been involved in. Three scammers, spread across Libya and the United Arab Emirates, set the con. They posed as a widow named Nourhan Abdul Aziz, a doctor named Dr. Ahmadiyya Ibrahim and a banker going by Ephraim Adamoah. From Nourhan’s initial contact with my associate, Condo Rice, to Ephraim’s actually donning an Obama mask and shooting our cover for us, 7,000 words were exchanged over nearly four months of emails. During that time, Condo and I negotiated our way through a labyrinthine network of fake websites, bogus documents and broken English, and ended up with the weirdest photograph I’ve seen in a long time. Read the actual email correspondence here.


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.