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.
Since late February this year, a Twitter account called SugarDad has promised to PayPal people large sums of money all just in exchange for a retweet.
Here's the tweet that started it all:
Mel Magazine's Zaron Burnett III digs deep into the mystery of the man (assuming it is a man) behind the account and his odd, suspicious displays of generosity. Who is SugarDad? And why is he sending people $10,000 and more for engagement with his Twitter account? What is the endgame here?
Online, there are the gullible, the naive and others who choose to believe that TheSugarDad1 is totally real. Much like kids with the Easter Bunny, it makes some adults feel good to believe in a generous stranger. So his Twitter followers cast their wishes and retweet his cash giveaways. Their numbers massively outweigh his critics, and they're quick to defend TheSugarDad1 by pointing to evidence of his generosity. But there are a scant few who tweet screenshots of money they've won and received. — and usually only when TheSugarDad1's fending off new accusations that he's a scam.
If you haven't heard of Anna Sorokin's story, well, then you're in for a doozy. Before her conviction, Sorokin, who went by the fake name "Anna Delvey," pretended to be a German heiress all the while swindling her way through New York City's elite social scene.
What did Sorokin do, exactly? Well, a lot of things. She skipped out on bills from luxury hotels and fancy restaurants. She ripped off a private jet company. She scammed banks. She invited a friend, Vanity Fair editor Rachel DeLoache Williams, to a six-day Morocco trip — one that she promised to pay for — and then had Williams foot the entire bill, all $62,000 of it. The story of her grifting is so outrageous that it's currently being adapted into both a Netflix show and an HBO show.
The latest update to Sorokin's story is that after a month-long trial, the jury has found her guilty of several of the charges against her. Sorokin is, however, acquitted of some of the more serious charges, including attempted grand larceny regarding a $22 million loan she tried to secure from a bank.
"'Fake it until you make it,'" her lawyer Todd Spodek said during opening statements last month. "Anna had to live by it."
Unethical? Yes, Mr. Spodek said. Unorthodox? Sure. A crime? No, he argued, because Ms. Sorokin intended to pay everyone back. In a world fascinated with "glamour and glitz," she had only allowed people to believe what they wanted about her, he said.
14 years after JT LeRoy, a transgender HIV-positive teen behind semi-autobiographical books dealing with drug use and childhood abuse, was revealed to be a literary persona and not a real person, BBC writer Kaleem Aftab sits down for an interview with Savannah Knoop, the person who "played" LeRoy in public events.
Looking back, it seems preposterous that they could pull this hoax off so publicly. Yet I was one of the very people they duped up close – in fact, in April 2005, I conducted one of the last ever interviews with LeRoy / Knoop before the hoax was unmasked by New York Magazine, when he arrived in London for the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival presentation of The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things.
We know that tax filing online is deliberately made to be a pain in the ass. For years, companies like TurboTax and H&R Block have lobbied against having the IRS pre-fill income tax forms for taxpayers, and recently, a bill might be passed that will forever prevent free online tax services from the IRS from becoming a reality.
But just to really hammer home the point that private companies like TurboTax are evil, ProPublica's Justin Elliott and Lucas Waldron recently exposed the dirty design tricks TurboTax uses to make sure that people trying to use the free filing service of TurboTax have an extremely difficult time finding it.
Even though TurboTax could tell we were eligible to file for free, the company never told us about the truly free version.
It turns out that if you start the process from TurboTax.com, it's impossible to find the truly free version. The company itself admits this.
And then later this week, ProPublica also uncovered that TurboTax and H&R Block are deliberately hiding their free filing services from search engine searches. This might not be considered a scam at first glance, but, honestly, it might as well be.
The fact that TurboTax Free File is effectively hidden from Google could contribute to the low rate of use. While 70% of taxpayers are eligible for Free File options from TurboTax and other tax software products, just 3% of eligible taxpayers or fewer use them each year.
And Finally, The Mystery Of A Man Called 'Adam Pisces' And All The Coke He's Ordering From Domino's Stores
The latest episode from the podcast Reply All zeroes in on a bizarre incident that has been happening to Domino's stores across the country. Once every few weeks, an order comes in asking for a $2 coke, nothing more. The order is always the same and it always comes from a customer called "Adam Pisces."
Without spoiling anything, the episode starts off as an investigation — and theories such as there must be a scam involved is floated — but the answers turn out to be more complicated than we'd expect.