Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Unheralded Scams -- I

*One from the archives that I should have saved for April 1...eh*

Scams have been around for at least as long as Man has. The opportunist versus the gullible.
Human wolves versus human sheep. The infamous "sucker born every minute", and the scam artist seeking that sucker with no end of angles to try on 'em.

My duels with Nigerian scammers -- and there are a plethora of folks doing what I do, some much better than I -- are a drop in the bucket, so far as what scammers are doing and trying. Telephone scammers strike for personal, bank and credit card info. There are door-to-door scammers -- like the infamous Travellers group -- who go to storm-damaged areas or homes of the elderly, seeking to steamroll the resident into home repairs -- paid for up front -- that are never completed, if even undertaken at all.

There are investment scams. Car sale scams. Scams on Ebay and other online sites. You can even argue that during election cycles, there are political scammers. We elect too damned many of them for our own good.

For the next couple of installments, I'm going to let you in on a couple of the more unheralded scams from the past. Scams that will leave you wondering why*.

Let's start with The Great Tsunami Scam of 1883.

Of course, if you live on an island or along the coastline of a major body of oceanic water, a tsunami -- or tidal wave -- is not a laughing matter. A major meteorological or seismic event, hundreds or even thousands of miles away, can result in catastrophic wave activity right on your door step (as the photos at the top right and left tend to sort of exemplify in a perhaps somewhat mildly embellished kind of way).

When you add to such apocalyptic images a throng of folks who are easily duped, you have the ingredients of a money-making scam.

Witness the following account:

On August 27, 1883, and after three prior eruptions within the previous 24 hours, the volcano Krakatoa, on the Indonesian island of Krakatau, exploded. The resulting tidal wave -- or tsunami -- roared into Sunda Strait (between the south coast of Sumatra and the NW coast of Java) reaching heights of 120 feet. When it cleared, 295 villages and towns along both coasts had been wiped out, along with over 36,000 residents.

Unlike today's 24/7 "instant news" -- real and/or made up -- back then, it took time for the story of the destruction of the island of Krakatau (about half of it was blown away or submerged in the final explosion of Krakatoa) to make it around the world. When it did, it ran shudders down the spines of a lot of coastal-dwelling residents.

It also spawned more than a few ethically-challenged opportunists. Including one in Nebraska.

That's right; Nebraska.

In his part of Nebraska -- mainly flat, where a 50 mile-diameter view could be accomplished by climbing a tree or an 8 foot ladder -- he had a farmer friend. This farmer friend had, as a part of his farm, the only "high ground" in that part of the county. It rose to a height of 125 feet above the surrounding fields, and covered a few dozen acres. Locals suggested one could see the lights of Denver, Colorado, on a clear night, as a faint glow over the horizon, from the summit of "Longview Hill".

The fact that Denver didn't yet have electric lighting, and was about 500 miles to the west, didn't dissuade the locals from making the claim; passersby acceptance of such only encouraged this future model for AlGore to proceed with his opportunity.

Convincing his farmer friend to allow him use of the predominant geography for a few days (the farmer was headed for distant Omaha to find a wife or buy a new plow horse), the entrepreneur seized upon the slowly-circulating news about the mighty tsunami that had swept all before it in the distant Pacific.

He started by obtaining published accounts of the Krakatoa tsunami. He then did a little bit of embellishing to the written copy (ala Reuters) with enhanced drawings of the "mighty wave", and the "fact" that it was proceeding across the Pacific, toward the US West Coast.

And that it was growing.

Then, quoting a seismic "expert" -- played by hisself -- and extrapolating out the wave effects as it neared the coast ("it would slow and rise in height, prior to overwhelming the California coastline, raging well inland, still being about 120 high into western Nebraska"), he quickly had the story published in the local paper.

It put the good, simple, God-and-media-fearing citizens in a tizzy.

"What the hale is we all supposed ta do 'bout this hyar wave thang?", the citizenry cried to the local town council. The town council -- locals elected by their peers -- met their responsibilities as many politicians before and since have: they scheduled a public meeting to discuss the pending crisis, and took the midnight train east to safer parts, the day before the meeting.

Abandoned, the towns' folk worked to come up with their own solutions:

"We could dig a giant ditch, to divert the water when it comes!"
"We could mount our homes on big stilts!"
"We could do what Randolph Scott would have done!"
"We need to pack up the women and the young 'uns and skedaddle!"
"But what about our homes? We cain' jest leave 'em!"
"Let's ask the seismic expert! He'll know what we should do!"
"The what?"

A couple old and grizzled ever-the-skeptics, tried to point out that that no so-called tsunami wave could not possibly push all the way inland, and past the mighty Rocky Mountains. But in the frenzy created by the story -- and fed by the opportunistic scammer, now wearing the guise of an Al Goreish "seismic expert" bearing his inconvenient truth -- they were drowned out by the mounting hysteria of impending doom.

At a subsequent public meeting -- one held two days before the wave was to hit California, the "expert" declared -- he spoke technically in geological gibberish, which impressed the simple crowd with simple educations. And he assured them that there was a "safe haven" within reach.

Longview Hill.

And for a per-person fee -- $25 -- he could arrange for every man, woman and child of the county to take refuge atop this geologic Ark in the path of The Million Years' Tsunami.

Money was passed like gas after beans for dinner; those who didn't have it, were unselfishly paid for by those who did. Rich and poor that day were one in crisis, and one in solution.

This 1880s AlGore was also adept at being an 1880s Robert Tilton ("Pastor Gas"), as well. And thus it became that Longview Hill became the center of population for one terrified but resolute Nebraska county.

As folks set up tents as temporary shelters and slit-trenches as temporary outhouses, the Al Gore/Robert Tilton of the 1880s -- packing more than $10,000 in cash -- mounted his horse and told the good and duped citizens that he was headed out to arrange for boats to retrieve them, and temporary shelter to sustain them until after the waters had receded. The good folks believed him.

Until The Day arrived, and The Wave didn't.

When reality finally dawned on them, the duped throng dispersed, seeking what solace they could in kicking themselves and anything else in reach, for their gullibility.

Meantime, the early precursor to Al Gore/Robert Tilton was living something of a high life in downtown Omaha, and working on his next scam angle: a tsunami warning for residents of Toledo (Ohio). As with most scams, one trip too many to the well proved fateful: folks thereabouts welcomed any change as an improvement, and the Al Gore/Robert Tilton precursor wound up head-first down an outhouse, once the deception was detected (ie., when Toledo's promised renovation didn't happen).

* you bothered to read this nonsense...


Blogger deni said...

Yep, I bothered to read it. LOL

Hope you have a wonderful 2007.

02 January, 2007 05:14  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're too funny.

Now, I'm having Seymour withdrawals...update?

Just asking. :)

02 January, 2007 08:09  
Blogger Raggedy said...

Yes I bothered to read it.
And along with the bother I really enjoyed reading it...
I have missed you.
It is good to be back.
Extra hugs for you!

Have a wonderful day!
(=':'=) hugs
(")_ (")Š from
the Cool Raggedy one

02 January, 2007 15:03  
Blogger Raggedy said...


02 January, 2007 15:04  
Blogger Ms. Vickie said...

Now if you need any information about the infamous Travellers group just
ask. A very large group make their home base about 10 miles from Augusta,GA.
in South Carolina. So for many years they were my sort of neighbors.

That group is something else and not in a good way.

Yep I bothered.

Have a happy New Year. :)

03 January, 2007 08:49  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course I bothered, anything you write - or pass on - is worth the bother ;-) Thanks for the laughs.

I'm with Monica, what's going on with Seymour and Jane? Has Jane given birth yet?

P.S. I have a new blog: http://www.passionsofmyheart.com

03 January, 2007 09:17  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was worth reading just to get an image of Al Gore head-first in an outhouse!

07 January, 2007 06:21  
Blogger Debbie said...

This just proves how gullible some people are. Thus why the scammers keep doing what they do.

Right Truth

20 January, 2010 08:53  
Blogger She Writes said...

and I am protocol dysfunctionally not sure how to colleagueally respond),

Oh, but I think you do! :)
Have a good weekend!

30 January, 2010 14:19  
Blogger Nishant said...

Now if you need any information about the infamous Travellers group just

Work from home India

08 February, 2010 08:05  

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