Dumb Cons That Collapsed Hilariously
A good con artist should always keep things simple. If you ever find yourself saying "so that's when the third kabuki dancer switches places with the mayor's wife," you've gone too far. But sometimes some random galaxy brain will try a scheme so weird you almost have to admire it. And we say "almost" because every Ocean's 11 on meth scam inevitably collapses under hilarious circumstances.
A Politician Created A Fictional Job Candidate To Make Himself Look Better, But The Fake Man Became A Government Minister
In 2006, a coalition government took power in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As part of the coalition agreement, a small party called UNAFEC got to submit a shortlist of candidates for the key role of trade minister. UNAFEC leader Honorius Kisimba Ngoy really wanted the job for himself, but he knew Prime Minister Antoine Gizenga didn't like him. So he submitted two nominees: himself and an invented, hilariously unqualified 34-year-old named Kasongo Ilunga, which is the Congolese equivalent of John Smith. You know where this is going -- Gizenga hated Kisimba so much that he chose the fake guy.
A fictional person was now one of the country's most senior politicians, and Kisimba suddenly had a huge problem. Now, he could have salvaged the situation, possibly by feeding a young actor lines through an earpiece or hiring a makeup team to disguise himself as a 34-year-old. At the very least he could have ramped his car into the crocodile tank at the Kinshasa Zoo and jumped out shouting "Oh no, they've devoured the trade minister!" But he just panicked and stonewalled while confused trade ministry civil servants tried to find their new boss, who never seemed to show up for work.
With doubts mounting, Kisimba wrote a letter from "Ilunga" announcing that he was resigning for personal reasons. Kisimba then tried to nominate someone else for the job, but a suspicious Prime Minister Gizenga refused to accept the resignation, saying that Ilunga would remain trade minister until he resigned in person. This prompted a small wave of random people named Kasongo Ilunga to show up at the trade ministry to try to grab the open cabinet post, because it's not like some random grifter would be the worst minister the DRC ever had.
Although Kisimba continued to deny everything, the ghost minister scam was now pretty obvious and UNAFEC officials quickly expelled Kisimba from their party. Kisimba insisted that no one had the right to expel the party leader and that he was actually expelling them, but everyone ignored him. He died in 2008; it is unclear if Mr. Ilunga attended the funeral.
A Forensics Expert And A Spy Teamed Up To Forge Trillions, But Riddled Their Forgeries With Errors
Graham Halksworth was one of Scotland Yard's top fingerprint experts before retiring to become a respected authenticator of old documents. You would expect any forgery plot that involved him to be meticulously planned, and you would be so, so wrong. Together with former Yugoslav spy Michael Slamaj, Halksworth claimed to have discovered $2.5 trillion in 1930s US government bonds. That's an amount usually only screamed by cartoonish villains like Dr. Evil or the Defense Appropriations Committee, and the scheme only got worse from there.
The pair claimed the bonds had been sent by the American government to Chinese nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek during World War II, but that the plane carrying them had crashed in a Filipino jungle and the bonds were lost until Slamaj stumbled upon the crash site in 2001. Now, there were a few holes in this story. For starters, "Load all the money in the world onto a single plane and fly it over enemy territory" seems like a risky financial transaction, even by 1940s standards. The Lend-Lease program didn't see the US shove the complete contents of Fort Knox into a rickety van and try to drive it to Moscow by way of Berlin. Also, we're pretty sure the government is allowed to disregard a bond certificate if it's soaked in pilot blood and 60 years of tarsier urine.
But no one needed to ponder those issues, because the forgers made a simpler mistake -- they forgot to spellcheck. When the pair tried to cash $25 million in Toronto, officers noticed the bonds read "dollar" instead of "dollars." They also contained zip codes, despite supposedly being printed decades before those were introduced. Oh, and further testing revealed they had been printed on an inkjet printer, which isn't exactly period accurate. They couldn't have been less convincing if they were scrawled in crayon on the back of old GameStop receipts.
Meanwhile, a lawyer independently called the police after the men told him they had $2.5 trillion in bonds because, again, that's obviously insane. As a bit of bonus idiocy, Slamaj tried to bluff his way into Halksworth's safety deposit box, presumably to destroy evidence. But the cops had already beaten him to the vault and were actually in the next room, listening to the whole thing play out. Both trillionaires were quickly sentenced to prison, proving that there's justice for the super-rich after all.
A Revolutionary AI Sounded Exactly Like Some Guy Just Writing An Email
In 2018, New Zealand's The Spinoff published an investigation into Zach, a cutting-edge AI already used by several medical doctors and university professors. Zach was supposedly powered by an incredible "custom-made silicon" supercomputer, weighing several hundred tons and cooled by liquid nitrogen. It could write and analyze patient notes, was being trained to interpret ECGs, and doctors noted it appeared capable of learning. The Christchurch city council were talking about housing Zach in a restored heritage building, where it could be visited by a public amazed to be living in the future.
But there were some oddities. Zach could only be reached by email, had response times of over 20 minutes, could only deal with a limited number of concurrent queries, and had bad spelling. Those are all more typical of your shitty co-worker Morris than a cutting-edge artificial intelligence. It would actually be harder to make a powerful computer's responses arrive slowly via email. All of this led The Spinoff to surmise that the "AI breakthrough" was actually just a guy with an email account doing all the tasks himself, not unlike the goddamn Wizard of Oz. That the company that owned the "computer" was called Terrible should have been a warning sign.
Every additional detail was more humiliating than the last. Zach's "inventor," Alberic Whale, claimed to be a millionaire tech prodigy, but no evidence of any wealth exists. He was operating out of a "dingy room above a bike shop." Text on his websites appeared to be copy-pasted from real companies. He got good press for his giant charity donations, but the charities never got the supposed money and at least one sent him a cease-and-desist notice. Terrible was quickly investigated and eventually forced out of business by tax authorities. It reported assets of $0, not including a massive supercomputer.
A Lobbyist Faked A Baby To Blackmail The Bolivian President, Faked The Fake Baby's Death, Then Resurrected The Fake Baby
In 2016, Bolivian president Evo Morales was revealed to have had an affair with the much younger Gabriela Zapata, who went on to become a top executive at a Chinese engineering firm while still in her 20s. The Morales government subsequently gave her company over USD $500 million in contracts, which admittedly does beat flowers and a box of chocolates.
So that sounds pretty sleazy, but it's hardly making the cover of International Sleazeballs Monthly. Morales admitted to the relationship but denied any corruption, insisting that it was perfectly normal for his young adult girlfriend to rapidly rise to one of the country's top lobbyist positions. He added that he and Zapata even had a baby boy who'd died in 2007, and therefore everyone should feel bad for him instead of yelling about conflicts of interest. But when an investigation led to Zapata's arrest, she played her ace in the hole: the kid was still alive.
According to Zapata, she only told Morales their baby had died. In reality, the child had been smuggled to the Bolivian city of Cochabamba and raised in secret. He even sat for a (tragically unaired) interview with CNN while wearing a mask to protect his identity. Morales, as confused as everyone else, said he was pleased to hear his son had lived but demanded to know why the child had been hidden from him in the mountains like he was Cronus. A court investigation then concluded that the Kid in the Plastic Mask was unrelated. Zapata had rented him from a poor family for $5,000.
Then it was revealed that the baby had never actually existed to begin with. Zapata had faked a pregnancy, presumably to gain leverage over the president. After what we assume was a series of wacky hijinks involving fake stomachs, Zapata told Morales the baby had died during childbirth, before resurrecting the kid to produce a series of dramatic late season plot twists. The stunt didn't save Zapata from jail time, while the bad publicity helped Morales lose a referendum on whether he could run for a third term. He then ran anyway, which led directly to whatever the situation in Bolivia is by the time this article runs. Our guess is that the imaginary baby has become president and rules with an iron fist.
Someone Used A Fake Twitter Account To Scam MAGA Folk, But Everything Collapsed When It Was Retweeted By The President
An internet scam can't be too good. Pretending to be a Nigerian prince sounds great, but get too convincing and suddenly you have to battle Boko Haram to save the plucky but gullible townsfolk who have won your heart. The scammers behind @ProTrump45 on Twitter, who claimed to be a young black Trump supporter named Nicole Mincey, learned this lesson the hard way. Nicole built quite a following by relentlessly supporting the president, and she even blogged for the Daily Caller. This was all very impressive considering that Mincey's profile image was a stock photo and her inspiring backstory was constantly changing.
Was Trump finally capturing the key "models of color who also have the Memento disease" demographic? No, "Mincey" was just doing all this to promote a website that sold knockoff pro-Trump merchandise at outrageous prices. Which is a pretty good scam, unless you get so good at it that you hoodwink the president.
Yep, one of the pro-Trump tweets was retweeted by Trump to his millions of followers, at which point the scam immediately collapsed under the weight of all the added scrutiny. People noticed that "Mincey" was a stock photo, causing the photo company to threaten legal action. And you don't want to mess with a stock photo company, because they'll stick your headshot under "gonorrhea-related incontinence" and suddenly you can't ride the bus in certain ad markets.
Mincey's photo was replaced with a different picture, which also turned out to be a stock photo. Then journalists tracked down a real Nicole Mincy (sans 'e') who claimed she knew the people running the account and accused them of stealing her identity. Then someone apparently hacked into the Twitter account and changed the password, locking out the scammers, who then set up a new account and started angrily tweeting about the old account. At this point both accounts were permabanned by Twitter, the online store was taken down, and years of work were undone, all because the scam fooled the biggest mark of all.
An Engineer's Plan To Rig The Lottery Collapsed Into An Incompetent Mess Thanks To The Clumsiest Bigfoot Hunter In Texas
Back in 2010, a man in a hoodie and a baseball cap walked into an Iowa convenience store to buy two hot dogs and a lottery ticket. He won $16.5 million and some kind of stomach infection, but no one came forward with the winning ticket. Finally, just before the deadline, a shady Quebecois lawyer claimed victory. But he failed to identify what "he" had wore that day and, unable to match anyone with security footage of the man who'd bought the ticket, lottery officials became concerned the ticket might have been stolen. They released the footage, and other lottery workers recognised the man as Eddie Tipton.
Tipton was a software engineer who programmed the random number generator used in dozens of state lotteries. Most days, the generator used a Geiger counter to measure a radioactive isotope called Americium-214 in the surrounding air, then twisted that measurement into a random number. While certainly a lot more complicated than the dartboard-based system we assumed was used to pick lottery numbers, that complexity meant no one noticed when Tipton rigged the machine. It mostly worked as advertised, but on three days a year Tipton's code would generate one of a few hundred predictable outcomes.
Tipton passed winning numbers to friends and family, who collected millions and kicked some of the cash back to him. His most notable launderer was his brother, who used his share to fund his obsessive hunt for Bigfoot. At least two other noted Bigfoot hunters also collected winning tickets, which was the first recorded instance of a Bigfoot hunter collecting anything other than jars full of mislabeled moose feces and unpaid child support warnings.
The scam was safe as long as the individual wins were relatively low-key, but it quickly came under investigation after Tipton was identified buying the massive winning ticket in Iowa. Meanwhile Tipton's brother was independently being investigated for trying to launder $500,000 through Texas firework stands. The cops eventually tracked him down in the hospital he was sent to after breaking both legs by falling out of a tree while on a Bigfoot hunt. When they got a tipoff that his brother was a lottery software engineer, everyone was quickly arrested. And now, just because Eddie Tipton couldn't give his lawyer a quick heads-up that he bought the ticket while dressed like an undercover Captain America, we're never going to find Bigfoot.