Financial scams are awful, but you almost have to respect the level of planning it takes to devise a foolproof caper that separates the unwary from the contents of their bank accounts. But what happens when you remove everything clever from the equation, leaving just the criminality and the chutzpah? Well, you get things like ...
In 1995, Foutanga Babani Sissoko went to the head office of the Dubai Islamic Bank (DIB) for a car loan. While chumming it up with manager Mohammed Ayoub, Sissoko mentioned that he could use black magic to double any amount of cash, and he invited Ayoub home to prove it. You know, normal friend stuff.
When Ayoub arrived with his money, he witnessed an elaborate display of special effects, complete with smoke, lights, and the mysterious voices of djinn. When the theatrics were over, he saw that twice the money he had offered was indeed present, and from there, he was hooked.
Now, many people in the Islamic world believe in black magic and djinn, much like many people in the West believe in astrology or the talent of Johnny Depp. But it's one thing to check your morning horoscope to see if you're in for a bit of good luck today, and quite another to go to your job and move millions of dollars around based on the rantings of genies. And yet despite DIB being a bank run on Islamic law and based in an Islamic country that frowns on magic as blasphemous, Ayoub spent three years sending $242 million to Sissoko's worldwide accounts on the assumption that Sissoko would dutifully double it. He did not.
What he did was head to New York City, where he ran up massive credit card bills while wooing a Citibank teller who smoothed over the arrival of all this unauthorized money into his account. But Sissoko wasn't just interested in fancy New York living. He bought three used passenger jets to fulfill his dream of launching an airline to serve West Africa. When he tried to add two old Huey helicopters that needed special export licenses to his fleet, his men offered bribes to speed up the process and got arrested. Sissoko was then arrested as well, and that's the end of the story.
Oh, until Sissoko posted $20 million in bail and began a lavish Miami spending spree. DIB auditors hadn't caught up with him yet -- American authorities thought he was a genuine multi-millionaire and only wanted him for the attempted bribery. So he spent millions on jewelry and clothes, bought over 30 luxury cars (and gave several to his lawyers), rented 23 apartments (and gave several to his mistresses), and gave an estimated $14 million to charities to build good publicity before his trial. On Thursdays, he would drive around and just hand money to homeless people.
When his trial arrived, he pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 43 days in prison and a $215,000 fine, and got out early in exchange for a million-dollar donation to a homeless shelter (all of which was paid for with DIB's money). Then he returned to his native Mali -- which, conveniently, has no extradition treaties. He is now extremely wanted by both Interpol and the UAE, which sentenced him in absentia, but he has no plans to leave home. Locals praise his generosity, and he even served as a member of Malian Parliament between 2002 and 2014. As for DIB, they took such a huge hit that the government had to bail them out, and Ayoub served three no doubt very embarrassing years in jail.
When Floridian Kerville Holness went online to browse Broward County real estate, he thought he hit the jackpot after coming across a tax deed auction listing for a villa that was worth $177,000, but available for a mere $9,100. What he wound up purchasing was the 1x100-foot strip of grass that divided two properties. Specifically, it started at the curb between the two mailboxes, went under the wall of the two connecting garages, then ended out in the backyard. It was certainly a nice strip of grass, but its market value was only 50 bucks, which most seasoned investors agree is considerably less than 9,100.
So how did Holness get hoodwinked into a property transaction more embarrassing than a bridge purchase in Brooklyn? In his own rather unsurprising opinion, he was deceived. But according to county officials, it was his own damn fault for not investigating further. The listing was accompanied by a lovely picture showing a normal habitable home, burying all mention of its snake-like proportions. Sure, the pricing should have raised a red flag large enough to blot out the Sun, but it was still the type of buyer-beware situation that one might expect from a Bitcoin trader or dark web gunrunner, not the government.
Like all good bureaucrats, they made sure the technicalities were duly covered, leaving Holness likely to lose any attempt at a court case. And of course, when news of the embarrassing debacle went public, the internet was about as sympathetic as you'd expect. Maybe he can tell his new neighbors to take their dang mailboxes off of his very narrow lawn?
From 2015 to 2017, scammers raked in $90 million by pretending to be French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. It was simple: They would call prominent businessmen and charities, claim to be Le Drian, and explain that French citizens had been kidnapped in the Middle East. Obviously the French government couldn't be seen paying ransoms to terrorists, but if a private citizen would pay instead, then the politically tense situation could be resolved and the government would be in their figurative debt.
To convince the marks they were legit, the scammers would offer a Skype video call with the minister himself, which certainly must have sounded reassuring. After all, anyone can pretend to be a politician on the phone, but how could you possibly fake a live chat with a public figure? It's not like you can just slap a rubber mask on someo- holy shit, no way.
Yes, that is a man wearing a Jean-Yves Le Drian mask. Please take all the time you need to process this. Bookmark the article if need be. But do be reassured that the real Jean-Yves Le Drian does not have sagging lifeless skin, or two gaping voids where his eyes should be.
Again, this trick worked on CEOs and business leaders. The Aga Khan and the owner of Chateaux Margaux fell for it! One businessman happily sent $45 million to the bank account provided by fucking Edgar from Men In Black. Every time that man's wife stands next to a department store mannequin, he ends up waving a gun back and forth while screaming "Which one do I shoot?!" The scammers at least made their calls low-quality and badly lit, but that only raises further questions. Why would you hand over millions to a supposed government minister with the level of technology used to make early 2000s YouTube videos?
French authorities believe the mastermind was an Israeli con man who's currently awaiting trial in Paris (he was caught after trying to scam the president of Senegal, who knew Le Drian well). He apparently wasn't working alone, since the scam briefly restarted after he was already in prison. But if the accomplices are smart, they'll give up on grifting and churn out Jean-Yves Le Drian masks as next year's hottest Halloween costume.
Back in 2010, the U.S. and Afghan governments were looking for a peace deal with the Taliban. Luckily, their ol' pals the Brits had been contacted by top Taliban commander Mullah Akhtar Mansour, who agreed to be flown to Kabul to participate in talks. Of course, Mansour was also slipped a large bribe to bring him to the table, but surely that was a small price to pay for peace? Well, maybe it would have been, but they weren't negotiating with Mansour. It was a shopkeeper from Pakistan.
There were three separate meetings in which "Mansour" was flown to Kabul on a British plane. MI6 reportedly spent a full year working with him because he was surprisingly keen on a deal, and it kind of puts a damper on the whole MI6 image when you know that the real James Bond is probably locked in tense negotiations with a guy in a Quiznos uniform claiming to be Joseph Kony.
The scam was reportedly only detected when the negotiators showed a picture of their new friend to an Afghan official who knew the real Mansour. Maybe someone with that knowledge should have been invited to the first meeting? Mansour was the country's aviation minister before the Taliban were overthrown, so it's not like no one in the country had ever laid eyes on him. You can't rent a used Datsun without two forms of ID, dental records, and a stool sample, but international negotiations run on the honor system?
The Afghans and Americans quickly swung into action and blamed everything on the British, who conceded there was "some truth" in that, presumably in an awkward Hugh-Grant-style stammer. It remains unclear whether the fake Mullah had any connection to the Taliban, with Western intelligence sources torn between blaming Pakistan's spy agency for setting them up and concluding that he was nothing but a random man who heard about emissaries nosing around for Taliban negotiators and saw the chance of a lifetime. Either way, he disappeared with the money and was never caught.
24-year-old Luke "Milky" Moore had suffered a string of rotten luck. The 2008 stock market crash wiped out his savings, his job was eliminated, he was injured in a brutal traffic accident, his mother was ill, and the depression and stress of all this ended his romantic relationship. Then the wheel of fortune spun so hard in the other direction that it burst into flame.
Moore's latest automatic $500 mortgage payment was due, and because he had no money to pay it, he assumed a foreclosure was inevitable. But weeks of overdraft after overdraft were applied to his account and used on his mortgage, and his bank didn't seem to care how deep into the red he went. Emboldened, he requested a $5,000 mortgage payment from the money he didn't have, then a $50,000 payment, and both went through without complaint. He had accidentally toggled on life's infinite money cheat.
Moore paid off enough to be able to sell his house for a $150,000 profit, which he immediately used to go on a six-month party binge. But depression crept back as the money dried up, and Moore realized that nonstop drinking, gambling, and sex was no way to live. He decided he should turn his life around ... by getting even more free money from his bank. He discovered he could overdraft into his PayPal account, and so the party restarted.
He bought a Maserati and a Hyundai (to go pick up the Maserati in). He took a friend and two strippers on a luxury vacation. He bought the exact kind of memorabilia you'd expect a mid-20s man in perpetual party mode would: a signed Jordan jersey, autographed pictures of Kiss and the Chili Peppers, and a goddamn Dali painting. He also dropped $40,000 to rent an entire brothel for himself for four days. He told himself he wasn't stealing; just enjoying an interest-free loan that he would totally pay back.
Finally, after over two years of living like a tacky rock star, the bank began to ask where their 2 million dollars were. Moore grabbed as much cash as he could and fled to Thailand, but, feeling guilty over how all this would affect his parents, he returned home after a couple weeks. He was arrested and sentenced to four and a half years in prison by a judge who wasn't exactly blown away by his "No one told me it was illegal" defense.
But with his father's (unrelated) banking career destroyed by the scandal, his mother disappointed in him, and his own life in tatters, Moore decided to use his time in prison to buckle down and finally become a responsible adult by studying law ... so he could get out on a technicality. Moore argued that his actions had adhered to his bank contract, which said he was authorized to request overdrafts pending bank approval. If the bank didn't bother to review the request, it would eventually be approved automatically. It may have been immoral, but it wasn't deceitful. The courts agreed, and Moore went free on the "He's technically correct" clause after only a few months in jail.
And now Moore has actually turned his life around. The bank declined to pursue his debts because it was worth eating the cost to get the whole stupid story out of the news. He speculated on how he could have exploited the situation more effectively, but he's enrolled in law school and wants to live a normal life. So ... we honestly have no idea what the lesson here is.
E. Reid Ross has a book called BIZARRE WORLD available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Michael Battaglino is a contributor to Cracked.com, be sure to check out some of his other work if you enjoyed this article. This is not a scam: Christian Markle wants to hear your thoughts. Ping him on Facebook.
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