#3. Junk Mail Checks Turn Out To Be Cashable
Like everybody else who was alive in the 90s, Patrick Combs, a career consultant, was constantly being bombarded by junk mail letters advertising relatively innocent scams (at least compared to today's excessively familiar penis-enlarging-haiku-spammers).
A long way from "RE: ur d1ck will explode _____R_O_L_E_X_".
The massive junk mail industry created a sort of arms race; recipients got used to just dumping the mail in the trash, so these shady companies would try more and more extreme gimmicks to get your attention. You'd get ads that looked like bills, ads that looked like late payment notices and ads that looked like checks.
And, of course, Czech ads.
For instance, one of those letters was a "work-from-home" gimmick that came with a fake check for $95,000 made out in the recipient's name. Combs, maybe just wanting to see what would happen, deposited that bastard into his account. The next day he found he had the $95,000 in his account. He giggled and figured that the bank would take it back. They didn't. A few weeks passed. The money was still there.
Combs started reading up on checking laws and discovered that, due to a technicality, the fake junk mail check actually counted as a legitimate financial instrument. They had been so dedicated to making the check look real that they didn't realize that simply writing "non negotiable" in tiny print in the corner was not enough to render it null and void. The check was valid, Combs simply been the first guy silly enough to deposit one. And his bank had been stupid enough to cash it.
So, he withdrew the money from his account. No longer a bunch of extra zeroes on a computer screen and now actual money, the bank realized that, holy shit, they had just honored a huge check from a fly-by-night scam operation that didn't actually have the kind of cash to back it up.
Unfortunately for them, by the time the bank realized what had happened, their window for getting the money back had already passed. So, naturally they tried to persuade Combs to hand over what was now legally his by bullying him, saying he was guilty of fraud and that they were going to send the cops after him. But no crime had been committed. Combs went to the media, his story appearing in the Wall Street Journal and from there, everywhere. He was on Good Morning America and just about every other news show on TV. He did speaking engagements and he even made a DVD of his story the he sells at his site.
He also works as a motivational speaker.
Eventually his conscience got the better of him and Combs returned the money, after getting the bank to write a letter admitting they had acted like dicks. After months of insisting that "non-negotiable" on a check indeed rendered it invalid, Combs amused himself by paying them back the money with a check with the same "non-negotiable" written in the corner. The bank took it with no problem.
#2. Australian Farmer Named Royalty by Accident
In the late 1960s, Leonard Casley grew way too much wheat, which could only ever be a serious problem if you live in Australia. You see, Australia had wheat quotas at the time and Hutt River (the province where Casley and other families grew) had inadvertently surpassed it, meaning they weren't allowed to sell any of it. When they petitioned for the quota to be raised, the governor responded by saying, "No," and filing a law to take their land away. THAT'S how serious Australians are about wheat.
Wheat and dingoes are two things they never take lightly.
In a desperate attempt to delay the legal process, the five families of Hutt River seceded from Australia under the Treason Act of 1495. This would have been as pointless as that time you were five and told your mom you were leaving home... if the government hadn't accidentally referred to Casley as "Administrator of Hutt River Province" in official correspondence, which actually gave him legal recognition as a ruler under Australian law. Yes, in Australia, calling someone something magically turns them into that.
His full legal name is now "Hugh J. Wolverine."
Taking full of advantage of the mistake, Casley declared himself His Majesty Prince Leonard I of Hutt, meaning it was now treason, under Australian law, to charge him with any crime or interfere with how he ran his new country.
Prince Leonard can make it so all dudes have to wear necklaces, if he wants to.
Could Australia have stopped him? Sure. But by the time they got around to it, the statute of limitations had run out. So as of 1972, The Principality of Hutt River had officially seceded from Australia and stopped paying income taxes.
As of the modern day, Hutt River is still separate, while Australia treats it as a private business that doesn't pay them taxes and just tries, really hard, to pretend it's not there.
In all fairness, it's a pretty small chunk.
#1. Redefining Auto Racing Through Cheating
While racecar mechanic Smokey Yunick never technically broke the rules in NASCAR back in the 1960s, he perfected the art of plunging headlong into every single loophole in the regulations. In NASCAR slang this is still known as "Yuniking the rules"; for the rest of the world it's just "being awesome at cheating."
The whole point of NASCAR racing is that every car is the same; race officials carefully inspect the cars to make sure this is the case. It's supposed to be all about the drivers and the strategy--primarily based on fuel consumption, and figuring out how to go as long as possible between time-consuming pit stops. Once, when inspectors had removed Smokey's gas tank to make sure it was regulation size, he climbed in the supposedly gasless car, started it, and drove off.
He wasn't using black magic; it turned out he had replaced the fuel line with a coiled tube that could hold five gallons of extra gas. Yeah, they'd forgotten to make a rule about that. Then when inspectors would drain the fuel to just see if he was hiding any, it'd come out just right--that's because Smokey had put a basketball inside the tank and inflated it before inspection. After inspection, he'd let the air out of the ball and now he had an extra cubic foot or so of fuel tank to work with.
This is actually his combination race-car/BBQ.
That was just the beginning. He figured out how to improve the aerodynamics of the car while creating the optical illusion that nothing had been changed. He invented so much stuff to try to sneak in an extra edge here and there that you probably have some of it in your car now. He was awarded a dozen or so patents for his innovations in steering systems, spark plugs, cooling and probably some kind of hidden rocket booster. He's now in the Motorsports Hall of Fame.
They even drew this badass picture of him.
Now, we're not saying that cheaters win. We're just saying... well actually we are saying that. You just have to be really good at it.
And stop by Linkstorm to see how you can cheat your way to having more friends on Facebook.
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