by John Cheese
We've written before about con artists pulling off insane scams. It's kind of our thing. Though we never support scumbags who screw people over, we have to admire the sheer ballsiness that it takes to even think of this stuff, let alone put those plans into action. Unfortunately for the world, there is no shortage of these human-shaped, sentient buttholes. For instance ...
A Company Buys Phone Numbers To Rip Off Reality Show Voters
Look, I understand that it's hard to feel sympathy for people who spend hard-earned money to vote on reality show competitors. I get it. But before we look down on them for their human imperfections, we have to at least admit that they are, in fact, humans. Mostly.
It's those imperfections that a company called "Subhan Universal Ltd" banked on in order to make a quick buck back in 2012-2013. Two TV shows in the UK (Britain's Got Talent and I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here!) had phone numbers set up so viewers could call in and vote for their favorite contestants. Subhan Universal realized that people would be dialing those numbers manually, as opposed to having them in their contacts list ... which means that some voters, drunk on the insults of tell-it-like-it-is British snark, would misdial.
"THANK. YOU. FOR. YOUR. VOTE. HU-MON."
The company bought ten numbers that were nearly identical to the real voting lines, changing only one digit in each. Then they left a recorded message on each one, saying, "Thanks for voting." After that, they just slapped on a £1.02 charge and let people's clumsy fingers do the rest.
They eventually got caught, but there's a sort of evil genius behind the scheme. They were fined £6,000 and ordered to refund "all those who were caught up in the scam who ask for a refund." Here's the thing, though: Most people didn't even realize they had been scammed. Everything seemed perfectly normal on their end. So in order to be reimbursed, they had to 1) see the announcement about the scam. 2) dig through their call list and cross-reference that number with the ten fake numbers to see if they had been caught up in it. 3) File the paperwork and make calls to the right people, in order to recoup ... a dollar.
This coin will be forever tainted with your shame.
You may think differently, but we'd be like, "You know what? Just keep it. You earned it, Chad Evildouche."
The $4 Billion Goldmine That Never Existed
"Salting the goldmine" may sound like the weirdest, laziest euphemism, but back in the The Gold Rush days, it was a scam that everyone had to look out for. The process was pretty simple, but it tricked a ton of people: they would dig a hole and then lace the rocks with a small amount of gold, making it appear that they'd struck it rich. Sometimes, they just sprinkled some small nuggets on the ground. Other times, they'd load shotgun shells with gold dust or gold pellets and shoot the rocks right in their stupid, goldless faces. Then they'd sell the entire mine to a prospector and skip town.
You can see how it would work back in those days. People weren't exactly geological savants -- most of the people beating feet to California were average, everyday Joes looking to fall face-first into instant wealth. Unless you'd put significant time into studying the industry, your plans would be to arrive and look for shiny stuff.
"We're RICH! DEAR GOD, THE WEALTH ... IT BURNS!"
You might be surprised, however, to find that someone pulled off that old scam in the mid 1990s to the tune of $4 billion.
What the public saw was a near-worthless company called Bre-X, announcing the discovery of what appeared to be the world's largest gold deposit. Investors shot out at them like projectile vomit, and before they knew it, they were worth $280 per share.
What actually happened was that the lead geologist was spiking the samples with shavings from his gold wedding ring, making it appear that the drill bits were hitting veins. He kept doing that through 1997, when suspicions of BS got high enough that the Indonesian government stepped in to investigate.
The whole story is insane, because on top of the $4 billion, nonexistent mine (and investors losing everything they had), it ended with the geologist "falling" out of a helicopter to his death. It's actually still unknown if he was murdered, committed suicide or faked his own death, using another body, because his corpse was eaten by wild boars. That's not a dark joke -- that actually happened.
"Hakuna matata, baby."
The Miracle Cars Scam
At age 19, a guy named Robert Gomez told his roommate that he was the adopted son of a guy named John Bowers. He claimed that John was an executive of a food company, and he was worth just under half a billion dollars. He then let that simmer for a while.
A year later, they both moved in with the roommate's parents. Sometime around age 23, Gomez wormed his way into their church group. He continued the story about his wealthy father, but added in one huge, life-changing detail: The father had died and left a fleet of 16 luxury cars that were to be given to fellow Christians. The only thing the recipient had to do was pay the taxes and titling fees, which came to around $1000.
If people got suspicious and wanted to see the titles or VINs, Gomez told them that those were sealed from the public under court order and couldn't be released until the estate was cleared for sale. Once it was cleared, they'd unseal the documents and deliver the cars. Which, believe it or not, is actually a real thing that can happen in real life. Because the world is a vampire. Sent to dray-ee-ay-ee-aaiiin.
"Yeah, it's made out of actual gold, too, bro!"
Gomez was met with a geyser of people spewing money at him, so naturally, he updated his story to, "Turns out we have LOTS of cars -- not just 16!" Word spread from church to church, and everyone wanted to get in on it. He was making money so fast that he had to hire extra people to handle the deals. He even convinced everyone to pay him with cashier's checks or money orders, so the money would be harder to trace. Before he could even process how big the scam was getting, he had made $30,000. And that's not even the crazy part. Not even close.
By 2000, he had hired three "national finders" who set up a central office and sold the cars for him. By this point, the scheme had been running for three years. He appointed "team captains" to sell more and more and more. At one point, he was even selling the cars to NFL players.
So from the very first sentence of this entry, you knew that the cars never existed. Neither did John Bowers' estate. Nor John Bowers, himself. Gomez just wanted to be a professional gambler, and the scheme was supporting that habit (for a while, he even regularly played poker with Larry Flynt). We have no idea what his exit plan was, but we're assuming it was mostly, "Pfffft. What's an exit?"
"Sir, there is no such thing as a 'bajillion dollar' bet."
In the end (2002 -- five years total), they had scammed people out of $21.1 million. $8.7 million of that money is still "missing" to this day. Gomez got 24 years in prison. The roommate got just shy of 22 years. The "national finders" and various helpers got several years, themselves, and all of the members paid tens of millions in restitution and refunds. Is there a middle finger emoji? Because we kind of need a middle finger emoji to punctuate that story.
Linda Taylor "The Welfare Queen" Was Way Worse Than Anybody Realized
Back in the mid 70s, one of the big political talking points (besides giant collars and bell bottoms) was the "broken welfare system" and how badly it needed to be fixed. Ronald Reagan used to collect stories of people scamming the system and hold them up as examples of why we needed to drastically cut funding for those benefits. The person he focused on the most was Linda Taylor, "The Welfare Queen."
In political speeches, he had cited her as using, "... 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year." He even devoted part of his radio show to regularly updating her story. We're sure there's an idea for a romantic comedy in there somewhere.
"You had me at 'hello,' welfare queen. You had me at 'hello'."
The stories about her got so big and so ridiculous, newspapers started declaring her an urban legend. A politicized myth to be used as a scare tactic. The thing is, she wasn't a myth. And the things she did made welfare fraud look as minor as jaywalking. If you want the full details, check out this article on Slate, but the nitty-gritty is that she was believed to be involved in fraud, burglary, identity theft, kidnapping, extortion, murder and baby trafficking. She straight-up sold babies.
The reason she was able to get away with it so well is because she had a freakish ability to change her identity and appearance on a dime. As one of the investigators put it, "She is black, but is able to pass herself off as Spanish, Filipino, white, and black." She could also appear as young as 20 and as old as mid-50s.
She was so good at it, she was married to multiple men at the same time, and nobody had any clue. One of those husbands didn't even press the issue when he found out she had five mailboxes and got mail under different names for each of them. Wait ... was she Ben 10?
She eventually went to prison for only $8000 worth of welfare fraud. The police actually chose to not pursue a murder charge (which they had evidence for), because they were afraid that it would distract from the welfare case. After she did her time, she changed her name, fled from Chicago and disappeared, forever. She's not Ben 10. She's freakin' Keyser Söze.
A Man Recycled One Bottle For Over $54,000
In Germany, they have these machines where you can toss in your bottles and cans and get a receipt that you can turn in for a minor amount of money. Usually a few cents at most. Once you put the recyclables in, the machine shreds them in order to make room for more. Pretty simple system, right? There's absolutely no way you could scam one of those suckers. Article over, baby! The. End.
Yeah, a guy bought one of those machines and did some minor hacking -- he put some sort of sensor on the inside and made a wooden chute to deflect the bottles from hitting the shredders. With that system, he was able to feed a single bottle into the machine over and over until he racked up $54,256.09 (converted to U.S. Dollars).
The guy isn't named in the article, but we're pretty sure it translates to "The Most Patient Person Who Ever Lived," because he fed that bottle into that machine 177,451 times. The judge was pretty amazed by his persistence, pointing out that the guy must have done nothing but attend to that machine all day. To which the guy responded, "I had a radio next to it because otherwise it was really boring."
"Welcome back to our 4-hour block of 'Slipknot Sings The Muppets'."
And that may be the only time since the 1990s that someone has turned on a radio to become less bored. We hope he at least has access to a radio in jail, because the stunt got him ten months.
Like this article? Check out "5 Real, Creative Punishments The Law Handed Out To Morons" and "5 Ridiculous Cybercrimes You'll Be Amazed Were Pulled Off".