The Internet is fertile ground for all sorts of scams. Which are the biggest (and funniest) ones though? We have collected 5 that made it pretty big on the Web, check it out.
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The lonelygirl15 videos were a series of YouTube clips, chronicling the everyday worries of a regular fifteen year old girl and her phenomenally advanced video and editing skills. As the series progressed sinister overtones of cult behavior crept in. Despite being slightly more obviously fake than a video of Bigfoot at Roswell, debate about the veracity of the videos raged for weeks and many were upset when the hoax was revealed. Yes, people publicly announced “I am upset that I was not voyeuristically enjoying the slide of a real underage girl into terror and abuse without doing anything about it.”
The LA Times eventually “exposed” the hoax, and we’re sure that when the previously unheard of film-making “conspirators” were outed there, and in The Times, and The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and PBS they were absolutely horrified. “Man,” they must have said to all the reporters and newscasters who would previously never have looked twice at them, “You really got us there. We didn’t expect this kind of exposure of our hoax at all.”
“We didn’t think it would work half this well.”
2. EVE banker
For those of you who still know what other people and the daystar look like, EVE Online is a massively immersive space-based MMORPG. And we mean immersive like an ocean of quicksand being played on fast forward – it is literally a single entire galaxy, and while other worlds have characters and weapon systems this one has an entire economy. You can actually succeed in the game simply by trading commodities, and the games currency of ISK (Interstellar Kredit) has a real, if not entirely legal, conversion to real money. In fact EVE ISK (0.40 USD per 1M ISK, video games tend to deal in big units) is probably a better investment and more widely used than the actual currency of Iceland Kroner (0.01 USD = 1 ISK). The EVE player population also rivals that of Iceland (about 300,000), and CCP games (the makers) are headquartered in Iceland. Not that we’re suggesting any Reykjavikians should be worried about being replaced by a fanatical army trained by CCP to obey their every command.
People have set up entire businesses in the virtual space of EVE, inverting the whole function of a video game by essentially working two jobs (the first paying the monthly subscription fee for the second), with the average EVE player logging in 2.5 hours a day. In 2006 a player called Cally (real name Dentara Rast) set up the “EVE Investment Bank”, and in yet another example of the amazing unrealistic things that can happen in video games, people entrusted their money to a man named “Cally”.
Over time the bank expanded and eventually had over 700 Billion ISK (over one hundred thousand real, honest to god “You can buy food or sex with these” dollars) in the account. Then, in a corporate crime that real-life CEOs can only dream of (and I’m sure often do), Cally just took all the money and ran. Specifically, he ran and bought an Ultimega-death clas hyper cruiser, put a million ISK bounty on his own head and cruised off into deep space simply daring anyone to try and kill him. See this? THIS is why people play video games so much – in real life white collar crime is fudged numbers and emigration to tax havens, in EVE we’ve got a bank manager who deals with service complaints with a fusion cannon.
3. Bad Company Downloadable Content
The conundrum of downloadable content has really revealed the true spirit of developers. Awesome companies like Valve release free content, because they understand this whole “internet” thing, with its digital distribution and the value behind a beloved brand. Non-awesome companies like EA charge for it, while others like Microsoft hover in the middle with “pay now or free later strategies”. Contrary to what half the population of the Internet would have you believe, though, you can’t actually hate someone because they don’t give away their work for free. Luckily, EA has made it A-OK to hate them again by charging for “non-downloadable content”, otherwise known as “Things you already bought from them.”
For years EA has been working on that whole troublesome “Actually having to produce something in order to earn money” thing, reducing the content of yearly titles with each iteration, and with Bad Company they’ve finally achieved it. What you do, right, is you pay for a Battlefield: Bad Company disc. Or you can pay extra for a version which unlock some of the weapons. Weapons that are, in fact, already on both discs. Yes, EA have achieved the Zen Nirvana of Marketing Bastardry by working out how to sell you the same thing twice and charge each time.
This news was about as well received as a plague rat in an operating theatre, but the fact is that Electronics Arts offices worldwide remain un-burned down proves that Internet critics are very, very vocal online and very, very useless in terms of actually doing things. A boycott movement has already started and we can only hope that once, just once, Internet apathy doesn’t bother to ruin it. Because once they find they can get away with this EA will absolutely grind this practice into the ground long after there’s any remaining point, motivation or sanity. These are the guys who turned the popular Madden game franchise into a yearly sixty-dollar player name update, and that at least started good.
You might recall that we talked about the Gizmondo a couple of weeks ago in our “The 5 Worst Reassurances” article (in which case thanks, regular reader, and might we say how particularly discerning and intelligent you’re looking today?). This is because the Gizmondo turns up in every single negative-adjective technology list on the entire Internet. It’s widely viewed as the greatest electronics disaster since somebody first thought “I’d love to make some toast while in the bath”. Which is unfair, because it was really a huge success.
Specifically, it was a huge success in its intended function of “Provide Stefan Eriksson, Johan Enander and friends with a twenty-four month fast-car-and-hookers party.” The business history of Tiger Telematics (the makers of Gizmondo) makes Grand Theft Auto look like Barney Teaches Spelling. The “managing executives” of the company had over twenty-four years of jail time between them for frauds and physical violence, they bought an entire London “modeling” agency, have wrecked over a million dollars worth of sports cars and had the entire-extended-family-of-all launch parties featuring Dannii Minogue, Sting and Busta Rhymes (among others). All this spending was supported by the sales of shares, presumably to people who signed the cheques in crayon, because when a company is paying for parties with shares then that is not a company that plans to be around for long.
For 2005 the company effectively lost over a million dollars a day. You could light a hundred dollars on fire once a minute, every minute without eating or sleeping and still not achieve that level of loss – and I assure you that these guys found WAY funner things to do with the cash than that. It was a real life Brewster’s Millions. In what amazingly hasn’t turned out to be an April Fool’s joke, one of the original crew is now attempting to raise investment capital to relaunch the company (translation – there are a few types of champagne he hasn’t tried yet). Which just proves that there are people desperate to make money out of “those computer-game things” despite not even knowing how to Google somebody.
5. Scamming the Scammers
Every time I get a 419 spam my faith in humanity goes down a notch (it’s currently hovering just above the Earth’s core), because the fact that they keep coming shows that somewhere, somehow, they’re still working. I’m all in favor of the terminally foolish being parted with cash they shouldn’t have, but I’m an even bigger fan of poetic justice – which is why the work of 419eater is so entertaining. E-mailing scamming might be the biggest online fraud of our time but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t idiots on both sides, as shown in this wonderful piece where the scammers become the scammees. And not just for credit cards, or social security, oh no.
They get to hand copy an entire Harry Potter novel. And they scan the pages to prove it.
Go, really, you have to see these – and then every time your inbox gets clogged with another “UIRG3NT LOTTTTERY TIKKIT!!#” mail, you can picture a scammer hunched over his notepad and
1. copying his four hundredth page of delightful child’s fantasy
2. desperately ignoring the massive, aching pain in his wrist
3. giggling “Woohoo I’m going to make so much free money”
4. utterly, utterly failing to appreciate the irony.