The Students Who Key-Logged Their Teacher, And More Of The Week's Best Scam Stories

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It seems like we're living in a society that's full of scams, hoaxes and questionable practices committed by individuals or corporations these days. Some scams are purely horrible, some are more incredible than egregious, and some are just really, really weird.

Welcome to Cons And Pros, a weekly roundup of the most outrageous scam stories we have come across this week.

Here's A Cool Study Hack

Most of us probably try to get good grades at high school by studying, but for these two teenagers, hacking into their teacher's computer to change the grades was the thing they really put a lot of time and effort into in an almost "Ocean's 11"-like scheme. 

So my friend and I positioned the cameras toward one classroom where the teacher was known to walk in and out of the room constantly. We used the cameras to see when she left before the end of school, and we caught the door before she left. She hadn't logged off, and we got access.

We put a key-logger on her computer, which would email us every half-hour what she had typed. That's how we got her username and password. And since we had access to her credentials, we had access to the grade book. Now we could change the grades.


What initially began as an altruistic action — they would use it to help bump up the grades of their friends who needed it — also turned into a nice side hustle where they charged people for their "service."

The lesson we learned from this? Never underestimate your students, especially when it comes to technological savviness.

Objection, Your Honor

It was supposed to be a carbon credit fraud trial, but then things went south when the star witness of the prosecution team was revealed to be a fraud himself. 

A £3.5million scam case in the UK was closed by a judge at Southwark Crown Court after the expert witness, Andrew Ager, confessed that he was actually not an expert in the trading of carbon credits, the permit that allows a country or an organization to emit a certain amount of carbon emissions.

Mr Ager, the CPS's expert witness on the carbon credit trading market, admitted that he had no academic qualifications, had received no training nor had he attended any course on the carbon credit trade.

He said that could not remember if he had passed any A-levels and that he had never read the only book published on what was supposed to be his area of expertise. Instead, he claimed that he had learned "from his environment".

[The Telegraph]

What is most troubling is that Ager has been involved in 20 to 50 carbon credit cases as a star witness before. And according to BBC, several of his witness statements in this trial was copy-and-pasted from statements he had given before in other cases.

Not A Pretty Picture

Several years ago, artist Peter Max, who is best known for his pop and psychedelic art, began to suffer from dementia. And yet strangely, the production of his paintings has never stopped, despite the fact that the painter hasn't painted seriously for years.

According to Amy Chozick from The New York Times, Max's family and business associates have been exploiting the artist by having Max sign paintings that were created by teams of "ghost painters," paintings that would later be auctioned off in art auctions on cruise ships. 

But that's not even the most bizarre thing in this tale of financial exploitation and elder abuse, a story that in many ways mirrors that of the late Stan Lee's:

For five years and counting — the latest lawsuit came Friday — the artist's family, friends and associates have been trading lurid courtroom allegations of kidnapping, hired goons, attempted murder by Brazil nut, and schemes to wring even more money out of what was already one of the most profitable art franchises in modern times. From Shun Lee to the high seas, the twilight years of Mr. Max's life have produced a pursuit of art-auction profits and a trail of misfortune as surreal as his trippiest works.

[The New York Times]

Careful What You Apply For

There are many "work from home" scams out there, but most likely won't lead to you being served with a federal prison sentence. Unfortunately for Douglas Glover, he had fallen victim to a scam that was highly illegal in more senses than one.

When Alabama 37-year-old Douglas Glover saw a job ad on offering a chance to work from home in 2016, it seemed like a pretty good gig. Someone using the name "Ginger M. Towers" from a company calling itself North Star Freight offered him $25 for every package he managed to send out.

[The Daily Beast]

While this type of scheme usually involves corporations recruiting people to send high-end goods to places like Russia using stolen credit card information, things became even dicier for Glover when the company asked him to send two boxes filled with something decidedly more dangerous: 50 AK-47 magazines.

How Preachers Have Preyed On The Poor

Vicky Baker's BBC piece on how televangelists are making money off people off poor Americans is essentially two stories. One story is about two victims, Larry and Darcy Fardette, a couple who donated around $20,000 to different religious organizations over the years in the hopes that the money they'd invested in — called "seeds" — would multiply and their faith be rewarded. The other story is about the origins of Trinity Foundation, a ministry that has become one of the most important watchdog organizations investigating religious fraud committed by televangelists and churches.

One of the most gut-wrenching parts of the piece is you can see from the story of the Fardettes how televangelists are scamming those who are in dire financial need of what little is left of their money:

A number of those making the most persistent pleas for money tap into something called the prosperity gospel, which hinges on a belief that your health and wealth are controlled by God, and God is willing you to be prosperous. Believers are encouraged to show their faith through payments, which they understand will be repaid – many times over – either in the form of wealth or healing.

For followers, it is a way to make sense of sickness and poverty. It can feel empowering and inspiring amid despair. The hard-up donors are often not oblivious to the preachers' personal wealth – though they may not know the extent of it – but they take the riches as a sign of a direct connection with God. If seed payments have worked for them, maybe they can work for you too?


When the Fardettes were desperate for money to help their ailing daughter's health, the responses, however, were disheartening.

His daughter's health, which had long been poor, had become critical. Larry had promised to help her financially, but his "seeds" had not flourished. He wrote a heart-wrenching, five-page letter to several ministries he had contributed to over the years, pleading for help. 

"We had been faithful to these ministries. They called us partners, friends, family," he explains today. "We thought they'd be there for us."


The replies drifted in. Some were instant email responses, others came through the post after prompting. All were rejections. 


Single Man Seeking Catfisher

It's probably safe to say that most times during online dating, people really don't want to be catfished, but now, as Hudson Hongo from Gizmodo has reported, there are actually a small number of men who are actively seeking to be catfished or scammed.

Martin, a self-described "loser virgin," estimated that there are currently hundreds of catfish fetish accounts serving many more clients. He said he sometimes spends hundreds of dollars a week on catfish, and thinks the fact that these women "might be an old man or whatever" makes it even kinkier for some.

Eddie agreed. He said he had been catfished "quite a few times" by men pretending to be women and, eventually, "knowing someone was laughing at you and scamming you became a huge turn on."


<p>Pang-Chieh Ho is an associate editor at Digg.</p>


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Update: Further evidence and screenshots has proven that this story was likely a marketing stunt. Read more here for BuzzFeed's reporting on this.

Previously: Look, stuff happens; the best laid-out plans of selfish brides often go awry, etc. But the ethical thing to do if you need to cancel a crowd-funded wedding would probably either be to return people's money, or to ask if it's alright to save it for a redo.

One of many things NOT to do: keep the money, use it for a vacation (it's not a honeymoon if you didn't get married) and other undetermined purposes, and then ask your generous ex-guests to give you gifts through your registry. A series of Facebook screenshots posted to Reddit (as always, take things with a grain of salt), tells the story:

Naturally, guests — the people who thought they were contributing to a wedding fund, only to find that they were instead funding the lifestyle of a woman not having a wedding anytime soon — were pissed. And, unsurprisingly, the bride displayed a phenomenal lack of self-awareness:

Not to split hairs, but "rescheduling" a wedding without actually setting a new date is effectively a cancellation. Lady, give 'em their money back.

[Via Reddit]

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Scammer Deepfakes CEO's Voice To Trick Subordinate Into Transferring $243,000, And More Of The Week's Best Scam Stories

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​It seems like we're living in a society that's full of scams, hoaxes and questionable practices committed by individuals or corporations these days. Some scams are purely horrible, some are more incredible than egregious, and some are just really, really weird.

Welcome to Cons And Pros, a weekly roundup of the most outrageous scam stories we have come across this week.

The Original Ponzi Scheme

While we're all familiar with the phrase "Ponzi scheme," a scheme that promises high rates of return to its investors and pays profits to earlier investors with money from more recent investors, not many of us are aware of the story of Charles Ponzi, the man whom this particular type of scam is named after.

Michael Durbin pulls back the curtain on the life of Ponzi with his article on Damn Interesting and details how the first Ponzi scheme from Charles Ponzi began. Initially, what Ponzi was trying to pull off was a form of arbitrage involving the International Reply Coupon, a coupon meant to simplify the process of international mail. Ponzi, however, soon met a roadblock when he ran out of funding.

At the end of February 1920, Ponzi owed $2,655 to Giberti's initial investors—their $1,770 capital plus $885 interest. Ponzi had no arbitrage profits with which to pay them. But he had money from more recent investors, so he simply used that, dipping into funds from Peter, as it were, to pay Paul. He claimed the gains were legitimate, that an associate named Lionello Sarti had gone to Italy and returned with large quantities of coupons, along with the fortunate news there were plenty more to be had. It's very likely Sarti never existed—nobody other than Ponzi would ever report meeting the man. Ponzi's satisfied investors didn't care as long as they were getting paid.

Damn Interesting

[Damn Interesting]

From CEO To Fake CEO

As deepfakes continue to seep uncomfortably into our lives, here's another example of why we have to be more wary of this AI technology:

The CEO of an energy firm based in the UK thought he was following his boss's urgent orders in March when he transferred funds to a third-party. But the request actually came from the AI-assisted voice of a fraudster.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the mark believed he was speaking to the CEO of his businesses' parent company based in Germany. The German-accented caller told him to send €220,000 ($243,000 USD) to a Hungarian supplier within the hour. The firm's insurance company, Euler Hermes Group SA, shared information about the crime with WSJ but would not reveal the name of the targeted businesses.


All Beware The Con Queen Of Hollywood

And speaking of using a fake voice to dupe marks, who can forget the infamous Con Queen of Hollywood, an imposter who has posed as some of the most powerful women in Hollywood to scam freelancers in the industry and whom recent investigations have revealed to likely be a man?

While the Con Queen remains at large, Julie Miller's Vanity Fair article offers insight into the reasons why the Queen has been so hard to catch:

Kotsianas, who has spoken to over 100 victims, says the reason it's taken so long for authorities to zero in on this con artist is not so much because he's hard to find. "It's a very complicated case jurisdiction-wise," she said. "And it's the type of case that can fall between the cracks of law enforcement, in that even though it's really high-profile names being impersonated, the dollar amounts of the individual victims is really not that large in terms of what the FBI typically wades into."

[Vanity Fair]

The Walmart In No-Man's Land

While not necessarily a scam, Quartz's reporting of Walmart's tax dodge scheme, which involves the company inventing a "fictitious" Chinese entity to avoid paying $2.6 billion in taxes certainly counts as a dodgy corporate practice.

Walmart's arrangement, internally named "Project Flex," revolved around the company's payments to its Chinese subsidiary in Shenzhen, from which it sources many of the billions of dollars of Chinese goods it imports every year, the former executive wrote in a presentation explaining it. To avoid paying tax in either the US or China, Walmart created a "tax nowhere" entity that neither country would claim jurisdiction over, according to the former executive.


And if the IRS is able to reclaim the $2.6 billion Walmart owes, it will be the second-largest tax repayment in US history (the honor of the first goes to GlaxoSmithKline's $3.4 billion settlement with the IRS in 2006).

Pang-Chieh Ho is an Editor at Digg.

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