/ James Altucher / 8 pm Mon, Jun 16 2014
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  • I stopped a ten million dollar robbery

    I stopped a ten million dollar robbery

    "For various reasons, including my wife Claudia is slightly worried I could get killed, I am changing all of the names. All of the other details are intact." A true story by James Altucher

    I stopped a ten million dollar robbery recently.

    A few weeks ago, a guy claiming to be related to Middle Eastern royalty, (call him “M”), had a representative (a friend of a friend of a friend) call me and ask me if I knew anyone who would lend M ten million dollars.

    “He has collateral,” the rep said: “$25 million in restricted shares of [well known private Internet company].“

    So I called a fund I used to be an investor in. They were interested and made an offer. Call the fund manager, “Bill”.

    Bill said, “We’ll lend $10 million IF we get the full $25 million on any default.” Here were the other terms Bill said.

    - 15% interest, paid quarterly
    - the full loan is due back in two years
    - $600,000 fee paid to Bill up front.
    - Bill wanted 25% of all the upside on the full $25 million in shares for the next ten years.

    I had never seen a term in a loan like that last one but I give Bill credit. Why not ask for it? In a negotiation it never hurts to ask for anything.

    M said, “yes”. He needed the money fast for some real estate he wanted to buy.

    Bill began his due diligence. M sent a fax picture of the shares. His lawyers sent over all the contracts M had signed to get those shares. M even wired $15,000 to Bill to pay for Bill’s legal fees. M wanted no hurdles to getting the deal done. Lawyers on both sides were busy every day all day, working out the details.

    Bill said to M: I need permission from the internet company that I would be the potential shareholder if you default.

    It took a day but M sent over a letter. It was written on the Internet company’s letterhead, signed by the company’s “Director of Investor Relations” giving Bill permission to control the shares in a default and “call me at XYZ phone number if you have any questions.”

    By coincidence, I knew the Director of Investor Relations but hadn’t spoken to him in a year or so.

    Finally, last Friday, Bill calls me in the morning. He was about to wire ten million dollars to M.

    “I don’t know,” Bill said, “I have to tell you, James, something seems funny.”


    choose-yourself Excerpted from James Altuchers's The Choose Yourself Stories. Available from Amazon for 99 cents.

    “The letter from the head of investor relations at the company. It almost seemed too simple. Why didn’t he throw in a line indemnifying the company?”

    “I don’t know,” I said. I had no clue. “Is that standard?”

    “I don’t know either,” Bill said and he sort of drifted, “I just don’t know. But something makes me feel funny.”

    “I have an idea,” I said, “I know the guy who wrote that letter. I’ll write to him and ask him if he wrote that letter. This way he independently verifies.”

    Bill said, “ok, do it.” So I did.

    I didn’t hear back. Bill called again two hours later.

    Bill said, “look, let’s call up the number on this letter. You stay quiet.”

    So Bill called and someone picked up and said he was “X”, the head of investor relations for this company. I’ve spoken to X a few times before. The voice did not sound like X but it had been awhile.

    Bill and X started talking about the letter. Then Bill said, “hey, by the way, I have your friend, James Altucher on the line to say Hi.”


    Dial tone.

    “We got disconnected,” I said.

    Bill started laughing.

    “JAMES!” he said.


    “This is a total fraud! That was a fake phone number. That guy was an actor! Do you think it was an accident we got disconnected the second I said you were on the phone?”

    I felt like an idiot.

    “I don’t understand. Why would they go through all of that?”

    Bill said, “Holy shit, I almost wired $10 million. That’s why they did it!”

    “I don’t get any of this,” I said. I was in denial. I had never seen a $10 million robbery in action.

    Then X, the ACTUAL head of investor relations at the company, wrote back to me. He said, “Stop by for coffee next time you are in SF. Meanwhile, I will contact your friend Bill about this letter you sent me.” Nothing else.

    I called Bill.

    “Yeah, X is all up in my grill about where I got this letter supposedly signed by him. He had never signed it. He wanted to know who was involved, etc. The shares were forged. That guy we called was fake. The contracts were forged. Signatures were forged. This is a total fraud. Authorities are being notified. It’s all bad.”

    Meanwhile, M, and his lawyers, had all disappeared at this point. No more contact. Nobody picking up their phones according to Bill.

    “Ugh,” I said. I felt sick. “I’m sorry I even introduced you to these guys.”

    Bill said, “Don’t worry. We’re in the business of looking at all opportunities. You helped figure this out. Without you I probably would’ve wired. But I’m glad I had a hunch.”

    So I have to give Bill credit again. I’ve ignored my hunches many times and paid the price. When your body whispers to you, you have to listen.

    There’s a lot of bad people in the world. All they want to do is destroy and vanish. They roam the world like pirates.

    A network of lawyers, escrows, fake shares, bank accounts, bogus corporations and banks, all set up to hide them in the shadows. A network of relationships and lies. The dark side of the force.

    Sometimes they are fake royalty. Sometimes they are your neighbor. Your friend. Your family. Your whatever.

    Sometimes the fraud is your bank account. Sometimes your heart.

    I had to go. I went to my daughter’s high school play. I sat outside in the parking lot of the school for a few minutes. I was shaking. We had spoken to Evil on the phone.

    I went into the school. I hate plays but I liked watching my daughter on stage.

    Then I wrote this post. “Maybe don’t publish it,” Claudia said. “It could be dangerous”.

    Sometimes people ask me what I do for a living.

    I solve crimes.


    [Image: Many Dollar Banknotes by 2bgr8STOCK. CC licensed]


    Notable Replies

    1. Citing wikipedia:

      Robbery is the crime of taking or attempting to take something of value by force or threat of force or by putting the victim in fear. At common law, robbery is defined as taking the property of another, with the intent to permanently deprive the person of that property, by means of force or fear.

      Emphasis is, naturally, mine.

      There was no stopping of a $10 million (redundant "dollar") robbery. There was an evasion of a $10 million confidence trick, also known as a con or a scam.

      More than that, I'm kind of nonplussed by this feature. I'm not exactly certain what to think about it. It could easily have been made up, and it reads a lot like a fictitious account to my ear. Then again it could be perfectly factual. There's no reasonable way to actually find out, since it's completely anonymous, and that kind of removes any real sense of importance or interest from the work. Knowing for certain whether it was fact or fiction would allow me to judge it appropriately, but as it stands it leaves me just oddly bemused.

      Beyond that, it has some flimsy moral about "trusting your hunches", as if BoingBoing doesn't routinely point out to us that people have a lot of cognitive biases and are actually pretty bad at correctly reading complicated situations just like this. There's also the "we had spoken to Evil on the phone" line, which literally made me groan out loud.

      I just don't get it. Why was this written? Who is the audience? What is it trying to convey beyond a vague, maybe-factual account of a possible high stakes scam? What's the tone supposed to be? What is the piece hoping to accomplish? I honestly can't tell.

      It's not a particularly exciting account. It's very dry, and very vague, and nothing much of substance occured.

      It's not even an amusing tale - even for being a notorious fabricator and exaggerator, previously covered Moran Cerf can still manage to be funny in the course of spinning a very similar yarn on a topic like this.

      I just was underwhelmed by this piece.

    2. He stopped a $10 million dollar robbery?

      He didn't even know what was going on until "Bill" told him. "Bill" was the one who called the number on the letter and eventually figured it out.

      "We got disconnected." Good grief.

      If I were the author (an "investor..who sits on the boards of several companies"), I would never ever ever tell this story to anyone. Ever.

      Too late.

    3. "There’s a lot of bad people in the world. All they want to do is destroy and vanish. They roam the world like pirates."

      Thank goodness for heroic former hedge fund managers, eh?

    4. I foil robberies like this every day. Or perhaps my spam filter does. Only today I stopped several robberies involving money lost in African bank accounts.

    5. Title adjustments
      - "I did nothing to stop a $10 million dollar robbery"
      - "I almost lost a guy $10 million dollars, good thing he's not as dumb as I am"
      - "I'm very proud of the stupidest thing I have ever done"

      Oh, his poor wife.

    Continue the discussion bbs.boingboing.net

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