Healthcare choice in America is a scam, according to the people who came up with it

One of the most frustratingly incredible things about Corporate PR Con Artistry is that even when the chaos magicians behind it reveal their tricks, there are still people who will continue to insist that somehow, this makes the lie even more real. We've seen it before with climate change, and the bullshit connection between vaccines and autism.

And now, in a new op-ed from The New York Times, we can see this phenomenon happening in real-time with healthcare. Most rational-thinking people understand that the private healthcare system in America offers no more "choice" than the socialized, single-payer, or other government-subsidized systems in other developed nations. Yet that idea of "choice" — and the fantastical fear-mongering about wait times in Canada — has become a popular talking point with those opposed to healthcare reform. Which is precisely what it was designed to do, by people like Wendell Potter, a former vice president for corporate communications at Cigna. As he writes in the Times:

To my everlasting regret, I played a hand in devising this deceptive talking point about choice when I worked in various communications roles for a leading health insurer between 1993 and 2008, ultimately serving as vice president for corporate communications.


Those of us who held senior positions for the big insurers knew that one of the huge vulnerabilities of the system is its lack of choice. In the current system, Americans cannot, in fact, pick their own doctors, specialists or hospitals — at least, not without incurring huge “out of network” bills.

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Google Maps is still overrun with scammers pretending to be local businesses, and Google's profiting from them

We bought a house in 2018 and have been renovating it pretty much constantly ever since: I've had to call out movers, emergency plumbers and electricians, find HVAC repairpeople, hire locksmiths, contract with a roofer, etc etc. Despite the longstanding and serious problems with fraud on Google Maps, I often start my search there, because I am an idiot, because 100% of the time, Google Maps sends me to a scammer. One hundred percent. Read the rest

How con artists use the Ouija board effect for their scams

In 1851, Michael Faraday secretly measured the muscle movements of Ouija board users who believed that the planchette was under ghostly control. According to Faraday, the users were unconsciously moving their muscles and but truly thought a spirit was pushing the planchette. A few decades later, physiologist William Carpenter dubbed this the "ideomotor effect." To this day, the ideomotor effect is a powerful phenomena and one that scammers have used to sell bogus "scientific" instruments. From the Wellcome Collection:

For example, in 2014, James McCormick, a British businessman, was convicted of selling fake bomb detectors to various international police forces. McCormick’s devices were marketed as using principles similar to dowsing, with extreme life-or-death stakes. The operator was supposed hold the device, called the ‘ADE 651’, like a wand, and allow its subtle movements to direct them towards dangerous substances.

The devices themselves have been determined to be entirely non-functional. But thanks in part to the ideomotor effect, they could easily feel functional, especially if the operator were confident in their legitimacy.

Since the late 1990s, non-functional detection devices with names such as ‘Sniffex’, ‘GT 200’ and ‘Alpha 6’ were sold by various scammers to governments throughout the world, including those of Iraq, Egypt, Syria, India, Thailand and Mexico. The World Peace Foundation of Tufts University, which tracks corruption related to international arms trading, estimates that fake bomb detectors generated more than $100 million in profit between 1999 and 2010.

"The psychology of Ouija" (Wellcome Collection via Daily Grail)

Vintage image: SFO Museum Read the rest

Machine learning hucksters invent an AI racist uncle that predicts your personality from your facial bone structure

Phrenology (the fake science of predicting personality from the shape of your cranial bones) is like Freddy Kruger, an unkillable demon who rises from the grave every time some desperate huckster decides they need to make a few extra bucks. Read the rest

Fyre Festival fraudster sentenced to six years in federal prison

Billy McFarland, the 26 year old con-artist who organized a disastrous Bahamas music festival in 2017 was sentenced to six years in federal prison on multiple counts of fraud. Ticket buyers who paid $12,000 had been promised a "first class" experience on a private island with yacht rides, gourmet meals, supermodels, and luxury villas but instead received school bus shuttles, cheese slices on bread, feral dogs, disaster relief tents and no musical performances.

From the New York Times:

Prosecutors said that the music festival, which was to have taken place in 2017, was the product of an elaborate scheme. The festival’s website identified its location as Fyre Cay, a fictional place that was described as a private island that had once belonged to the drug lord Pablo Escobar.

Actually, Mr. McFarland secured some land on Great Exuma just weeks before the festival and hired workers who scrambled to prepare for the event. But as ticket holders arrived, Mr. McFarland’s plans unraveled and the festival was canceled. His celebrity business partner in Fyre Media, the rapper Ja Rule, posted on social media that he was “heartbroken” about the chaos.

From late 2017 until early 2018, Mr. McFarland ran a company called NYC VIP Access that sold bogus tickets to events like the Met Gala, Coachella, Burning Man and the Super Bowl. In one case, prosecutors said, two customers flew from Florida to New York for the Grammy Awards, only to be turned away at the door.

In a sentencing memorandum, prosecutors called Mr.

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Spectacular read: a profile of Anna Sorokin, a con-artist who convinced New York that she was a high-rolling socialite trust-funder

Jessica Pressler's long, gripping profile of con artist Anna Sorokin (AKA Anna Delvey) has all the making of a first-rate grifter novel, where the likable, unflappable rogue is revealed by inches to be a sociopath, a broken person who can't herself tell truth from fiction. Read the rest

40 common tourist scams to look out for

Here's an infographic with 40 scams you should be aware of when you travel. Grifting creeps have tried pulling scams like this on me on various trips but luckily they weren't good enough at their trade to stop me from figuring out what was happening before I lost any money.

The Broken Camera

Someone will ask you to take a photo of them and their group of friends. The camera won’t work, and when you go to hand it back, they will drop it can cause it to smash. The entire group will then demand money for repairs, or pickpocket you during the commotion.

The Fake Takeaway Menu

Scam artists will slide fake takeaway menus under your hotel door, in the hope that you order from them on an evening where you don’t feel like going out. You won’t receive any food though, just a frightening bank statement after they have used your card details to make their own copy.

The Getaway Taxi Driver

When you arrive at your hotel from the airport, the taxi driver will kindly take your bags out of the trunk for you. He’ll seem in a rush though, and quickly hop back into his car and drive off as soon as possible. This is because he’s actually left one of your smaller and less memorable bags in his taxi. Read the rest

Russia's "Bernie Madoff" has been pulling a multi-billion dollar scam for decades, and his victims love him

One of the hallmarks of a great con artist is that his victims will return again and again to be fleeced. A few months ago I interviewed psychologist Maria Konnikova, author of The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It . . . Every Time, and she told me there have been many cases where con victims have happily paid the legal expenses of con artists when they were prosecuted in court.

Sergei Mavrodi sounds like a great con artist. He's been running a pyramid scheme for nearly 30 years. It's called the Mavrodi Moneybox Mondial (MMM) and despite the fact that Mavrodi was imprisoned for tax fraud in Russia in 2000, there is a long line of suckers begging to throw money at him. He has now moved into Nigeria, and is wiping out the savings of people living there.

If you visit the MMM Nigeria website, you will be greeted by live person ready to help you in a chat window.

From the site: Read the rest

Trump used $258,000 from charity to settle lawsuits involving his for-profit businesses

Washington Post reporter David A. Fahrenthold has been digging into purported billionaire Donald Trump's purported charity and unearths a heck of a story: Trump used $258,000 from his 'charitable' non-profit organization to settle legal problems involving his for-profit businesses.

“The settlements were among four newly documented expenditures in which Trump may have violated laws against “self-dealing” — which prohibit nonprofit leaders from using charity money to benefit themselves or their businesses,” Fahrenthold writes.

According to Fahrehthold's deep dive into Trump's dirty deals, the repugnantly racist and sexist Republican presidential nominee spent more than a quarter million dollars of funds belonging to his charitable foundation “to settle lawsuits that involved the billionaire’s for-profit businesses.” The reporting is based on interviews with primary sources, and a review of legal documents.

From the Washington Post article, which every voter should read in full:

Those cases, which together used $258,000 from Trump’s charity, were among four newly documented expenditures in which Trump may have violated laws against “self-dealing” — which prohibit nonprofit leaders from using charity money to benefit themselves or their businesses.

In one case, from 2007, Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club faced $120,000 in unpaid fines from the town of Palm Beach, Fla., resulting from a dispute over the size of a flagpole.

In a settlement, Palm Beach agreed to waive those fines — if Trump’s club made a $100,000 donation to a specific charity for veterans. Instead, Trump sent a check from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, a charity funded almost entirely by other people’s money, according to tax records.

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With 3,500 U.S. legal actions, Trump is most litigious presidential nominee ever

An analysis from USA Today finds that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is currently involved in 3,500 legal actions. Who else is involved? Everyone from the government to vodka makers. This number is unprecedented in scope for any presidential candidate in U.S. history, and likely far too many for the entire American press corps to really get down to the bottom of, in time for voters to determine what that means for their choice in November. Read the rest

Florida teen poses as doctor, opens office, and examines undercover agent

18-year-old Malachi Love-Robinson does not have a medical license, but that did not stop him from opening the New Birth New Life Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. The teenager had been treating patients since October until he was arrested Tuesday in a sting operation after performing a physical examination on an undercover agent.

Love-Robinson described his practice on

I am a well rounded proffessional that treats, and cares for patients, using a system of practice that bases treatment of physiological functions and abnormal conditions on natural laws governing the human body. I utilize physiological, psychological, and mechanical methods, such as air, water, light, heat, earth, phototherapy, food and herb therapy, psychotherapy, electrotherapy, physiotherapy, minor and orificial surgery, mechanotherapy, naturopathic corrections and manipulation, and natural methods or modalities, together with natural medicines, natural processed foods, and herbs and nature’s remedies.

Joey DeVilla thinks the young Florida man deserves a second chance:

While Love-Robinson should face the consequences for his actions, I think that simply locking him away would be a waste of some serious potential. It’s a rare 18-year-old who not only has the ambition to become a fake doctor (in both the sense of not having credentials and training, and also because I think naturopathy isn’t backed by any real science) but the skill and wit to somehow secure an office and start a practice. This isn’t a case of some hick sport-humping a manatee or a goofball thinking that throwing an alligator through a drive-through window would be a funny prank, but someone who exemplifies the “winning isn’t normal” idea I talked about in my Ignite presentation on Florida Man.

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Why we can't help getting ripped off by con artists

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One day in September 1951, Dr. Joseph Cyr, a surgeon Lieutenant of the Royal Canadian Navy, was on board a Navy ship in waters off the coast of North Korea. This was during the height of the Korean War, so when crew members spotted a small Korean junk off in the distance, they became suspicious, especially because the boat was headed straight for them. As the junk approached, the lookouts could see someone on the deck frantically waving a flag, and when the junk got closer, they saw that the men on board were more dead than alive. Their bodies had been torn apart by bullets and shrapnel. As soon as they were lifted aboard, Dr. Cyr immediately began operating on them. As the only person on the ship with medical qualifications, he spent the next 48 hours performing surgery, saving the lives of 19 men. He was hailed a hero at home, and he certainly would have received honors and a promotion from the Navy, if only they hadn’t discovered that Dr. Cyr was not a doctor and had never performed a surgical operation in his life before that day. He didn’t even have a high school degree. And his name wasn’t even Joseph Cyr, it was Ferdinand Demara. He’d stolen the identity of the real Dr. Cyr, a friend of his who knew him as Brother John Payne of the Brothers of Christian Instruction. Read the rest

Donald Trump picked business adviser convicted in “major Mafia-linked stock fraud scheme”

The Associated Press reports today that GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump asked a man who was once involved in a major Mafia-linked stock fraud scheme to be a senior business adviser to the Trump real-estate empire.

His name is Felix Sater. You can follow him on Twitter.

AP reports that Sater pleaded guilty in 1998 to one count of racketeering for his role in a $40 million stock fraud scheme involving the Genovese and Bonanno mafia families.

Five years before his financial crime conviction, Sater got a year in prison in 1993 for stabbing a man’s face with a broken margarita glass.

From the AP's report:

Portions of Trump's relationship with Felix Sater, a convicted felon and government informant, have been previously known. Trump worked with the company where Sater was an executive, Bayrock Group LLC, after it rented office space from the Trump Organization as early as 2003. Sater's criminal history was effectively unknown to the public at the time, because a judge kept the relevant court records secret and Sater altered his name. When Sater's criminal past and Mafia links came to light in 2007, Trump distanced himself from Sater.

But less than three years later, Trump renewed his ties with Sater. Sater presented business cards describing himself as a senior adviser to Donald Trump, and he had an office on the same floor as Trump's own office in New York's Trump Tower, The Associated Press learned through interviews and court records. Trump said during an AP interview on Wednesday that he recalled only bare details of Sater.

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Convicted Christian con artist Jim Bakker now just literally selling buckets of Bibles on TV

Behold, how the mighty have fallen. Read the rest

What magicians, con-artists, and scammers can teach us about humility and humanity

Before we had names for them or a science to study their impact, the people who could claim the most expertise on biases, fallacies, heuristics and all the other recently popularized quirks of human reasoning were scam artists, con artists, and magicians.

USA Today has never heard of sweat or talcum powder

Count USA Today among the news outlets that has never encountered the powerful effect that talcum powder can have on "human magnets." Read the rest