Hoax Museum Blog: Con Artists

A Disposition to Be Rich, by Geoffrey Ward — A new book to add to my reading list:

A Disposition to Be Rich
csmonitor.com

Geoffrey Ward’s cagily titled book, A Disposition to Be Rich, about his great grandfather isn’t so much written as lived in. In colorful and remarkable detail it chronicles the brazen exploits of Ferdinand Ward, “the best-hated man in the United States” and the pre-eminent Ponzi schemer of the Reconstruction Era. Not only did Ferd swindle former President Ulysses S. Grant out of millions in today’s dollars – making Grant a near-pauper as he was dying of tongue cancer – but Ferd’s greed also caused the collapse of several banks and the embarrassment of any number of high-ranking politicians and businessmen.

Posted: Wed May 09, 2012.   Comments ()

Fairy Kidnappings and Fairy Shysters — Fairies have a pretty good public image. They're widely regarded as good creatures, since they're small, delicate, and magical. But in European folklore, they were often considered quite malevolent. The wikipedia article on fairies notes the belief in fairy kidnapping:

Any form of sudden death might stem from a fairy kidnapping, with the apparent corpse being a wooden stand-in with the appearance of the kidnapped person. Consumption (tuberculosis) was sometimes blamed on the fairies forcing young men and women to dance at revels every night, causing them to waste away from lack of rest. Fairies riding domestic animals, such as cows or pigs or ducks, could cause paralysis or mysterious illnesses.



And apparently, the belief in fairy kidnapping created an opportunity for con artists. Dr. Beachcombing, who runs Beachcombing's Bizarre History Blog, notes the existence of what he calls "fairy shysters":

Sharp swindlers who, in the nineteenth and twentieth century, went around taking innocent and usually vulnerable men and women for 'a ride'. Beach has gathered some remarkable examples together, including three extraordinary instances of 'fairy shysters' posing as fairy kidnapped family members.

Unfortunately, Dr. Beachcombing is holding off on describing these cases until a later date, but I thought the idea of a fairy shyster was intriguing.
Posted: Fri May 04, 2012.   Comments (1)

Carlingford University —

Kenneth Shong
I think I'll add a degree from Carlingford University to my resume. I'll list it alongside my degree in Loch Ness Monster studies from Bigfoot U.

Carlingford was a fake university -- a diploma mill -- created by con artist Kenneth Shong, while he was in prison on forgery charges. He was getting his fellow inmates to enroll there, having convinced them it was real. Though one inmate became suspicious of "'poor business practices and unresponsiveness' in relation to the school returning his grades and giving further lessons."

Shong made a website for Carlingford, to make it seem slightly more legitimate. I found an archived copy of the site on the wayback machine. The site boasted that Carlingford taught students, "the ability to think creatively and critically" -- just not critically enough to realize they were being conned.

More astute critical thinkers might have noticed the site included a short rant about how the accreditation process is a scam (and therefore why Carlingford wasn't accredited) -- which is the kind of thing you don't usually find on the websites of legitimate universites:

The word 'accreditation' is a concept that only exists in the US. It is mostly a concept to make money (to be accredited, you have to pay an agency to do so), and there are 7 major accrediting agencies in the US. No other country in the world uses this term or concept.

Prison officials cottoned on to Shong's scheme around 2007. But it was only a week ago that he went to court to face a charge of fraud -- immediately after he had finished serving his sentence on the forgery charges. Links: Daily Mail, Green Bay Press Gazette.
Posted: Fri Jan 20, 2012.   Comments (2)

Turning Yankee dirt into gold —
<# some text #>
Mark Hayward
A pile of dirt may not be worth much money. But a pile of dirt that was once beneath Yankee Stadium could potentially have more value. Especially if that dirt was packed into key chains and other corporate gift items and then sold at a big markup in sporting goods stores.

That was the pitch Mark Hayward used to convince a victim to give him $35,000 -- as an investment in this Yankee dirt scheme. As far as I can tell (the news report isn't really clear) Hayward never had the dirt in question. Eventually the victim got suspicious. And now Hayward is facing charges of first-degree larceny. Link: ctpost.com.
Posted: Tue Jan 17, 2012.   Comments ()


Fake Cocaine — On June 4 Steven Decker of Muscatine, Iowa sold a white powder to an undercover agent. He said it was cocaine, but it wasn't. It was fake cocaine. In the eyes of the law, this doesn't let him off the hook. He's being charged with "delivery of a simulated controlled substance" and is looking at up to ten years in prison and $50,000 in fines.

I'm sure Decker is not exactly a boy-scout, but being charged for selling fake cocaine is a curious concept. Added irony: he was selling a simulated controlled substance to a simulated controlled substance buyer.
Posted: Tue Nov 25, 2008.   Comments (10)

Don’t buy diamonds in a Wal-Mart parking lot — Here's one for the "If you're this stupid, you deserve to be conned" file: The victim encounters two people in a Wal-Mart parking lot who are engaging in a transaction involving a diamond. The buyer (a man) offers the seller (a woman) $20,000 for the diamond. A normal person would think, "This is an odd location to be having this kind of transaction." Instead, the victim asks if she can buy a diamond also, and gets $1900 from the bank to pay for it. Surprise! She later discovers the diamond is fake. Link: Recordnet.com
Posted: Fri Nov 21, 2008.   Comments (2)

Once a con artist, always a con artist — Tony Golossian is accused of repeatedly luring a woman to motels, where he then blindfolded and sexually assaulted her. He told her it was all part of a ritual to remove a "black magic" curse on her family. If she didn't agree to participate, her 15-year-old sister would supposedly develop breast cancer and her "fallopian tubes would no longer function." Adding insult to injury, the woman paid him almost $100,000 for these "prayer sessions."

I hate to blame the victim, but is there ANYTHING that woman wouldn't believe?

At the trial Golossian complained of chest pains and had to be hospitalized. The doctors determined he was "trying to pervert the course of justice by imitating a heart attack."

Link: The Daily Telegraph.
Posted: Wed Sep 17, 2008.   Comments (4)

You know this man? — He's African Con-Cheater:

His talent as a Con-Man makes him luring people into a "business-partnership" with him that will allow him to withdraw all money you have deposited into "His" account.

If you help bring him to justice, you will receive 50% of the recovered money. Too bad he's probably already spent it all!

Sent in by Norbert Harms, to whom lovemeadow.com is registered.
Posted: Mon Jul 21, 2008.   Comments (5)

Horse Theft Scam — 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.
Posted: Tue Jul 15, 2008.   Comments (4)

How to break into a museum — This story is a great example of the truism that no security system can be better than the people operating it. Thieves broke into a museum at the University of British Columbia and stole gold artwork worth over $2 million. They got around the security system simply by calling the guards, pretending to be from the alarm company, and telling them to ignore any alarms that might go off that night. From cbc.ca:

Four hours before the break-in on May 23, two or three key surveillance cameras at the Museum of Anthropology mysteriously went off-line. Around the same time, a caller claiming to be from the alarm company phoned campus security, telling them there was a problem with the system and to ignore any alarms that might go off. Campus security fell for the ruse and ignored an automated computer alert sent to them, police sources told CBC News.

Posted: Wed Jun 04, 2008.   Comments (4)

Brother Roshan Wants Your Donations! — Canadian police are searching for two men who "falsely represented themselves as a spiritual healer and his assistant." Which raises the question: what counts as a real spiritual healer?

The healer guy advertised himself on the radio as Brother Roshan. He used a magic trick to con his victims out of money. CTV.CA reports:
Roshan wrote the names of each of his client's family members on each egg. He then placed the eggs in a covered pot of boiling water. Once they were cooked, he took out each egg and broke them open.
When he opened the egg with the client's name on it, there was a lottery ticket inside with a note saying they will win the lottery.
Clients were then told they must do the good deed of donating money if they hoped to claim their lottery prize. They were told the money was for expensive "prayer powder" from India that would help him rid people of curses.

Some people "donated" over $100,000 to Roshan.

This gives me an idea. Instead of a Museum of Hoaxes, I should open a "Museum of Good Luck and Prosperity." I'll tell people that if they make a donation to the museum it'll guarantee them good luck. I'd make a fortune.

Posted: Wed Jan 23, 2008.   Comments (2)

Fake Fishmongers Terrorize Edinburgh — Here's a case for the Streater sisters to tackle. Scotsman.com reports that:

FAKE fishmongers are continuing to operate in Edinburgh, targeting residents in Newington and Fairmilehead in the past week, according to Trading Standards.

It seems that these scam artists are wrapping Vietnamese catfish in polystyrene and cling film, then labeling it as "monkfish fillet," and using high-pressure sales techniques to get random people on the street to buy the phony fish. Up to three of them might surround a customer at a single time. Reportedly, "a person in Newington paid £90 for fish, while another paid almost £400 to the individuals."

This is a dastardly crime! Imagine just walking along the street and suddenly being surrounded by fishmongers. It would be enough to break anyone's will. The police report that the individuals "are believed to be trading from a white van with 'Sarrillion' printed on the side."
Posted: Fri Nov 16, 2007.   Comments (5)

Hypnotist Robbers — A New Hampshire convenience store clerk claims that he was robbed. However, the thieves didn't use any weapons or threats. Instead, they used hypnosis and mind control to make the clerk not notice that they were taking more than $1000. First coast news reports:
It started with a simple mind game. Think of a wild animal, they say, and we'll write down what's in your mind. but it escalates quickly to very personal information about a former girlfriend, and finally, says Patel, mind control. Even investigators are persuaded.
Patel says that the actual moment of hypnosis occurred when the thieves gave him a piece of paper and asked him to cut it into eleven smaller pieces. The clerk has also said that he'll pay back what was robbed.

Apparently this method of robbery has been used before in India (the thieves were Indian, as was the clerk), but I've never heard of it being used before this in America.
Posted: Tue Oct 02, 2007.   Comments (11)

New From Elliot: Brooklyn Bridge Scams — Elliot's latest addition to the Hoaxipedia details scams involving the Brooklyn Bridge. I like this one in particular:
In 1886, not long after the Brooklyn Bridge opened, another famous scam was perpetrated by a Brooklyn bookie named Steve Brodie. According to the story, Brodie’s scam originated in a bet with a Brooklyn bartender named Chuck Connors. The bookie wagered Connors that he could jump off the Brooklyn Bridge and survive the fall.
Steve Brodie ultimately won the bet and wound up becoming a major New York City celebrity and legend.
It was discovered years later that Brodie had actually pushed a dummy off the Bridge and hid under a pier.

Posted: Thu Aug 30, 2007.   Comments (5)

Fake Money For Strippers — Damon Armagost probably thought he had a pretty good scam going. He had printed up some fake $100 bills from an image he downloaded off the internet. He was then using this counterfeit money to pay for lap dances at a strip club. He must have thought the strippers would never notice the money was fake. Unfortunately for him, they did and alerted the police, who arrested Armagost and charged him with manufacturing and passing counterfeit currency.

Carl Sifakis, in his book Hoaxes and Scams, reports on a similar scam called "tishing a lady." It involves paying a prostitute with tissue paper instead of real money. The con artist flashes a large bill at the prostitute and makes a show of stuffing it into her stocking. But in reality he palms the bill and stuffs in tissue paper instead.

Sifakis writes that the con-artist Count Victor Lustig frequently used this scam. He would "warn the female that he had given her trick money, and if she removed it before the following day it would turn to tissue paper. The lady would promise to comply with the rules, but as soon as Lustig left, she would remove her reward; alas, it had indeed turned to tissue paper."
Posted: Sun Aug 26, 2007.   Comments (7)

Glass-Eaters Sentenced — Here's a couple that were making a career out of the inappropriate things found in food scam.

Ronald Evano and his wife Mary would go to a restaurant, purposefully eat glass, get themselves hospitalized, and then threaten to sue the restaurant. They did this at least a dozen times and collected over $200,000 in compensation. The AP reports:
Evano said in court that he and his wife ate the glass because they needed money. "We would go to a restaurant, and I'd say I had glass in my food," Evano said. "Then I would go to the hospital and say I was in pain." Over the years, one or both claimed to have eaten glass at establishments in Braintree and Quincy, Mass.; Bethesda and Gaithersburg, Md.; Washington D.C.; Providence, R.I.; and Midlothian, Va. The couple used false names, Social Security numbers and identity cards. Evano is in custody and is to be sentenced next month. He could receive up to 100 years in prison.
The things some people will do for money.
Posted: Thu Aug 16, 2007.   Comments (4)

Perpetual motion machine introduction delayed — Steorn is an Irish company which has announced that it's developed a "free energy" machine. "Free energy" is another name for "perpetual motion." As you may recall from high school physics, perpetual motion is theoretically impossible according to the known laws of physics. "Pshaw" says Steorn (figuratively, anyway).

So, time for the Big Unveiling came...and went. "Technical problems" says Steorn. Gee, you'd think that a company which has a paradigm-shattering technology would make sure that everything was ready to go before announcing a demo, wouldn't you? No worries, though, they're going to unveil it on the Fifth. I'm sure that every oil company executive will be anxiously sitting in front of his computer, terrified of the machine that will inevitably put him out of work. And then pigs will fly like 747's above the landscape.

Perpetual motion at long last?

UPDATE:

Per mo no go

UPDATE II:

Steorn device linked to Intelligent Design

MORE: Smirk as a Steorn exec "explains" their device's failure:

Schadenfreude

UPDATE: Let the lying begin!

Steorn CEO tries to explain

Gaze upon the Orbo, disbelievers!
Posted: Thu Jul 05, 2007.   Comments (13)

A “faster Internet” scam/hoax — So, this guy tells people he has a "revolutionary" technology that speeds up downloading from the Internet by a factor of maybe a hundred times or more. With it, you can download a full-length movie in seconds. He's had meetings with the President and vice-President about it and is working on ways to use it to beef up national security. Who wouldn't invest in a thing like that? He even wheedles money out of his relatives and his wife's family.

OK, you can see where this is going, right? The thing's a fake, a phony, a fraud. To be honest, I kind of hesitate to post stories like this since this site concerns itself with hoaxes; this, I would say, belongs more in the "scam" category. Still, it has hoax elements to it, so for what it's worth, here it is for your dining and dancing pleasure.

Breakthrough Internet Scam

UPDATE:

The Plot Thickens
Posted: Mon Jul 02, 2007.   Comments (12)

Elizabeth Albanese — The Press Club of Dallas has been a much-respected institution for years, offering the annual Katie awards to journalists for high quality work. Recently, though, the organisation’s reputation has been dealt a crippling blow, with the news that their recent president, Elizabeth Albanese, has been falsifying the award results for at least the past two years.

Albanese became involved with the Katies in 2003, the year she first won prizes, and has been reportedly tampering with the results every year since.

For the 2003 awards, unlike following years, a list of judges for the awards was provided. However, it appears that Albanese and her husband had access to each judge’s nominations for weeks before the ceremony, which certainly gave them the opportunity to alter them. Albanese won two awards.

In 2004, Albanese was acting as co-chair for the awards. Tom Stewart, the new president of the Press Club, has told reporters that the list of judges for that year cannot be found.

The judges for the 2005 and 2006 awards have been equally elusive. For the 2006 results, even the entries are missing. Volunteers packed them, and loaded them into Albanese’s car. After that, what happened to them is a mystery. Albanese claims that her husband’s company shipped the forms, but there are no records of this happening, and no-one but Albanese, and possibly her husband, know where they went. Tom Stewart is quoted as saying ”I wish to hell I knew. Greatest mystery to me. For all I know they’re in the damn Trinity River.”
Albanese won four awards that year - the most given to anyone.

Albanese was a social woman, slipping stories of her fascinating life into stories she told her friends.
These included:
*that she had a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Texas
*being born in Ireland, then moving to New York as a child
*being diagnosed with bone cancer, forcing the family to move to Houston so she could get treatment
*that her mother was a fashion model in New York
*that her father had been assistant manager at Plaza Hotel, and the family lived there
*that she had been a University of Texas cheerleader
*that she had married to Greek basketball player who had died in a car accident
*that she had worked for CNN during the first gulf war
*that she had a Harvard Law degree

What is known of her, much of which contradicts these tales, is this. Lisa Jeanne Albanese was born in White Plains, New York. When her working class family moved to a refinery town near Houston, her father worked in a car dealership. The only high school where she grew up has no record of her graduating, she never graduated college, and she did not even attend Harvard Law School. The family never lived in the Plaza. Albanese has a record of mental illness and delusional behaviour, and also a criminal record. In 1994, she was arrested for writing a bad check for a second-hand car. When the charge was entered into the system, it was discovered she was wanted in Texas for theft of two aeroplane tickets.

In February of 2007, Durhl Caussey - Albanese’s own choice for head of the club’s finance committee - was sent to pick up the financial records from Mac Duvall, their former bookkeeper. This proved to be a big mistake for Albanese. Duvall had proof of over $10,000 racked up on the club’s credit card. Between February and December of 2006, Albanese had been treating the card as if it were her own, blowing hundreds of dollars at a time on clothes, flights and hotel rooms. Duvall also showed Caussey records of the hundreds of emails he had sent Albanese regarding the club’s finances - emails that had never been shown to the rest of the board. Little wonder, with that sort of evidence, that Albanese had spoken to the board about firing Duvall. Caussey phoned Albanese for an explanation, whereupon she claimed it had been an honest mistake, and that she had paid back all the money. The records, however, showed that she still owed the club $3,000.

March 13th, 2007, became a showdown between Albanese and her doubters. At the meeting on this date, Durhl Caussey handed out copies of her credit card transactions to all the board members. Reactions were divided, with her supporters becoming angry at the ambush.
This was the point where Rand LaVonn, president of the Press Club Foundation stepped in. He made one request - “Please identify the judges for the 2006 Katie Awards and provide proof.”
Albanese claimed to not remember who the judges were, but promised to hand over a list of shipping labels to which the entries had been sent. Following the meeting, she told Meredith Dickenson - who considered her a friend - that she had destroyed the list, and was not going to provide any information. She made good on that statement. When Dickenson phoned her to ask about the judges, Albanese came up with strings of excuses - her husband had the labels and was out of town; she couldn’t call him as they didn’t talk when he was on business; she’d replaced her laptop without transferring the files…

Eventually, Albanese did provide a list of judges for the 2006 awards. However, the press club do not believe that the list is real. Some of the phone numbers didn’t work, one was answered by a hospital in Tennessee, and no-one has ever come forward to say they had been involved in the judging.

The club have no proof that any judging took place from 2004 until 2006 and, if that is the case, nearly 600 awards were handed out at Albanese’s whims. Several of her staunch defenders were winners in that timeframe.

Sadly, it looks like the Press Club of Dallas may have to bring to a close the annual award ceremony. Doing so will lose the monetary support the club used to rent its office space and to pay for journalistic scholarships. Some are still hoping that the awards may be revived but, for 2007, their future seems in doubt.

(Thanks to Kathleen for the story, and Madmouse for help with the post.)
Posted: Mon Jun 25, 2007.   Comments (19)

JT LeRoy, phantom author (Updated!) — This is a weird one. A book allegedly written by a young man, JT LeRoy, made a sensation recently. JT was a truck stop hooker, got involved with drugs, was possibly transgendered and generally had a pretty screwed-up life. The book was billed as non-fiction, supposedly the true story of JT's life. Naturally, it sold very well.

Oprah loved it, the movie director Gus VanSant and other Hollywood types were interested in it. Then the JT LeRoy saga started coming apart. Funny story, turns out there is no such person as JT LeRoy.

Even funnier, also turns out that more than one person, some of them female, portrayed JT at book signings and other appearances. As you'd expect, the people who put up good money to produce a book based on "JT"'s life story didn't see the humor in the situation. They sued Laura Albert, the woman who really wrote the book and who recruited friends and relatives to play JT.

The case came to trial this week. I don't want to spoil the ending for you, so click on the link and see how the case turned out. Oh, and you're gonna LOVE Albert's lawyer's defense of her actions. It's, uh, creative, I'll give him that.

AOL News, JT LeRoy.

OK, this is annoying. The article that link takes you to had a summary of Albert's defense of her actions, but it's been changed since I originally copied the link. The gist of it is that the lawyer said that Albert suffered from "multiple personalities." Now you *might* be able to buy that, but she claims that her multiples were contagious (my term) to explain how other people portrayed "JT" when the "author" needed to make an appearance. I've found the reference elsewhere, though.

From the Augusta Chronicle:

Albert and her lawyers say the matter is more complicated.

The middle-aged Albert testified during the trial that she had been assuming male identities for decades as a coping mechanism for psychological problems brought on by her sexual abuse as a child. To her, she said, Leroy was real — something akin to a different personality living inside her, but one that was capable of transferring to the people she hired to impersonate him.


UPDATE:

If the meme of the 90's was, "I know I did something wrong, but I apologize from the bottom of my heart and, by the way, I've found Jesus," the Ought's version seems to be, "I have no idea why you think what I did was wrong. I'm a misunderstood genius unappreciated by philistines like you."

I direct your attention to:

Gawker story on J T LeRoy.
Posted: Mon Jun 25, 2007.   Comments (11)

Page 1 of 5 pages  1 2 3 >  Last ›