4 Obvious Grifts That Keep Fooling People

4 Obvious Grifts That Keep Fooling People

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, but those who do not learn from dumb history will make a dance remix out of that shit, forget to credit the original artist, get sued for royalties, and the next thing they know they're working part-time at OfficeMax in between mid-afternoon state fair gigs. 

But what is worse, being the first person to think they could pull off a crazy scam, or being the second or sometimes third one and convincing yourself it's definitely gonna be different this time? 

Sign Language Interpreters Who Don’t Know Sign Language

American Sign Language interpreters perform a vital service for the deaf community, and these translators often receive a lot of attention when they appear in the background of a news conference or public event. Some people will make fun of the exaggerated body language and facial expressions the translators make while signing, but what they're missing is that those motions are crucial to communication. ASL interpreters obviously can't rely on volume or tone of voice, so they have to adjust the size of the gestures to emphasize the context. 

Not to mention, they have to do all of this in real-time. So, next time you feel like laughing at an ASL interpreter, instead watch this clip of a woman signing along to (and keeping up with) Eminem's "Rap God" and ask yourself if you could do any better:

So, now that we've established that making fun of ASL translators for doing their goddamn job is not cool, let's talk about one you have full permission to rip apart. On December 10, 2013, a memorial service was held for South African president Nelson Mandela, a solemn event of worldwide mourning that ideally shouldn't have had any cause for controversy. Enter Thamsanqa Jantjie, the on-stage sign language "interpreter" for the event whose translation was described as meaningless and "a total mockery of the language."

Jantjie tried to defend himself, first by saying that he had never received any complaints on his work before (he had) and that his employer would vouch for his skills (they stopped answering their phone). Finally, he stated that if his translations were off because he suffers from schizophrenia and was having hallucinations that day. If that were true, you'd think his translations would've been way more animated.

Strangely enough, bad sign language interpreters pop up pretty frequently. The reason for this is government agencies often don't have enough in their budget to hire a certified interpreter. So, they rely on volunteers who aren't quite fluent in ASL, and they soon find themselves out of their depth at an emergency hurricane briefing and warning deaf people to watch out for pizza and bear monsters. What can we say? The interpreters work for free, and the agencies often get exactly what they paid for.

One of the more puzzling cases was that of Derlyn Roberts, who made national news after signing complete gibberish at a Tampa Police press conference. Here's the weird part: no one hired her. She just showed up saying she was there to interpret, and no one asked her any follow-up questions, least of all, "Do you know how to sign?" She wasn't arrested because what she did was not technically illegal. It was wildly unethical but not against the law.

The bigger question in hindsight: Why? Roberts had been arrested for fraud multiple times in the past, by the Tampa Police, and she showed up to what … upstage a press conference about a serial killer case she had no personal stake in? Did she think that deaf people are incapable of filing a complaint? Or did she just want it to make her past easier to find on a Google search so employers wouldn't have to spend money on a background search? Who knows?

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Political Trolls Hiring Fake Bodyguards

Jacob Wohl is one of the most bizarre conspiracy theorists to have come out of the woodwork over the past few years. Despite only being 23 years old, he has already amassed an extensive résumé of crap that could fill a thousand articles on this site. His long list of attempted smear campaigns against Democrat politicians, many of which are debunked before he finishes his press conferences, make it impossible to tell if he's just really bad at investigating or if he has some sort of weird public humiliation fetish. But this entry isn't really about him. It's about the guy he had standing behind him a couple of years ago.

On February 28, 2019, Wohl was holding this press conference in the lobby outside, not as part of the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference, and it's really saying something when someone is considered too fringe for CPAC. Wohl and his cohorts were there to make an announcement on their latest false smear campaign against … It really doesn't matter. No one at CPAC cared what he had to say. Nor did the media, and neither did Twitter. What got trending that day was his weird, cosplaying bodyguard.

I mean, just look at the guy! The peacoat/turtleneck/sunglasses combo? He looks like a longshoreman who got stuck in The Matrix. We hate to rag on his height, but given the context here, it's kinda hard not to. He had better be one hell of a fighter because, at first glance, it looks like his most effective move is making an attacker feel guilty for not picking on someone their own size. 

But the best part has to be the AirPod in his ear. Dude, it's like you're not even trying to look the part. Do you know why real bodyguards wear those wired earpieces that wrap around the ear? It's so they don't come loose if and when shit goes down. AirPods, on the other hand, will fall out if you yawn too hard. 

It was one of those strange little moments that are fun to point and laugh at on Twitter for half a day, then meant to be completely forgotten. That was until the Justice for January 6 Rally took place in Washington D.C., and Twitter users spotted one of the rally's organizers' security guards sporting a familiar accessory.

Oh, for Pete's sake … What, are they recruiting these fake bodyguards straight out of an Apple Store or something? What kind of direct-to-Redbox, Bruce-Willis-has-a-mortgage-payment-due, piece of shit action movies are they watching that makes them think AirPods are standard equipment for a security detail? They look like the Cracked video team doing a $20 remake of The Bodyguard – if it weren't for the fact that the even knock-off AirPods would put them way over budget. 

If anyone else feels like playing bodyguard like these guys, here's some advice to help you pull off the bare minimum: Amazon has real radio earpieces for like $15. It doesn't even need to be hooked up to anything; just tuck the other end inside your suit jacket. Hell, even Party City could hook you up with a fake walkie-talkie, handcuffs, badges, etc. If you're gonna play dress-up, respect the craft.

The Cicret Bracelet

For decades, Hollywood has been warping our expectations of the future, making us believe that by now, we'd all be driving around in our flying cars with our pleasure bots while consuming entire meals in pill form. Well, we're in the future now, none of those things are real, and it freaking sucks.

That sense of dissatisfaction over a future that never came true has inspired a golden age of con artists promising to finally try to make those futuristic dreams a reality. The best part of the con is, they never have to actually produce these revolutionary products. They only have to lead investors to think they're making some progress, and that keeps the crowdfunding campaign going. But there are some failures you just can't BS your way out of. On that note, we present to you: The Cicret bracelet.

Initially pitched in 2014, it promised a device that took all of the functionality of your smartphone and put it in a sleek little bracelet that uses a projector and proximity sensors to turn your forearm into a touchscreen device. YouTuber Captain Disillusion took a deep dive into the long list of logistical problems with this proposed device and followed up on it a year later:

One major issue is with the projector. The screen image being projected onto the forearm from the side means that most of the image is gonna be blurry no matter what you do. There's also the problem of the image quality being limited by ambient lighting and skin tone, Meaning the Cicret might produce a so-so image if you were an albino sitting in a dark room. A black guy in the sunlight? Not so much.

The developers refused to take "that's not physically possible" for an answer and kept trying to sell the idea. Their attempts to address technological problems often made practical concerns even worse. For example, they tackled the blurriness issue by saying they'll be using a laser projector instead. So, the image will be clearer; only now the customer will be microdosing their forearms in low-level laser radiation. Will that cause skin cancer? We don't know because science had never considered someone would be dumb enough to purposely shine a laser to the same spot on their body dozens of times a day. 

The promised release date got pushed back from the end of 2016 to the spring of 2017, then they took down the timeline and stopped giving updates altogether. But within a couple of years, without any announcements, the Cicret bracelet was available for purchase online! It wasn't sold through any reputable websites, but they were advertising all of the amazing capabilities of the original pitch. Unfortunately, more often than not, what they would actually send you was the kind of cheap fitness tracker you might find on the clearance rack at your local drug store.

Yes, the Cicret bracelets you buy online today are also a scam, but you gotta respect the balls on these people. They're pulling a bait-and-switch on a cheap knock-off of a product that never existed in the first place. This is one of those frauds that are so mind-bogglingly stupid that if they manage to make any money at all, they've earned it.

“Prove Me Wrong” Bounties

In 1964, renowned skeptic James Randi publicly offered $1,000 to anyone who could prove that their paranormal or supernatural abilities were real, providing they agreed to a set of strict scientific testing criteria. Over the years, the prize amount gained a few zeroes, and by 1996, it was known as the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge. Over a thousand people had applied for a shot at the prize before the challenge was terminated in 2015. Winners: none.

James Randi's heart was in the right place. Originally starting out as a magician, Randi had made a new career out of debunking psychics and faith healers who were using the tricks of his former trade to prey on the emotions of the vulnerable for profit. The challenge was his way of telling these frauds once and for all to put up or shut up.

Randi with skull cane, 2014

Sgerbic/Wiki Commons

Here's Randi posing with a prop, NOT a true necromancer staff. 

Unfortunately, most of his efforts were in vain. We still have psychics, faith healers, mediums, and spoon benders all over the place. In fact, their business is booming! Even the prominent ones that Randi very publicly discredited, like Peter Popoff and Uri Gellar, were back on their BS in no time. James Randi really didn't expose fraudsters so much as he gave them free publicity and forced them to step up their game.

The One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge also had the adverse side effect of inspiring a lot of copycat challenges from the kind of people James Randi would've loved to take down. For example, My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell has offered five million dollars to anyone who could disprove his already widely discredited claims on the 2020 presidential election. Flat Earther Dave Weiss is offering a prize of two Bitcoin to anyone who could convince him he's wrong. In case you were wondering, at the time of this writing, that two Bitcoin prize is worth $107,880, or it might be $1.05 ten minutes from now if Elon Musk decides to be a dick on Twitter.

These kinds of "prove me wrong" wagers suffer from all of the same flaws as James Randi's million dollar challenge. The first fallacy is the implication that if no one accepts their challenge, that you somehow win by default; that's just schoolyard bully logic. The second problem is that they think this makes their cause an unstoppable force when in reality, they're just being an immovable object. They've given up on trying to talk people into their way of thinking, so their only option now is to challenge people to talk them out of it.

The third problem is that they have no reason to be fair or reasonable because their challengers have nothing at stake. Let's say that I claimed that I was a squirrel, and I offered a million dollars to anyone who could prove I'm not a squirrel. If they're unable to convince me I'm not a squirrel, they walk away with nothing, I get to keep my money and continue believing that I'm a squirrel. But if I were to lose, I face the prospect of having my entire squirrel identity collapse on itself and the eternal shame of being remembered as the guy who thought he was a squirrel, plus I'd be out a million bucks. That fear would only incentivize me to squirrel harder than any squirrel in history. Someone bet me $100 bucks that I couldn't use the word squirrel 10 times in one paragraph, so … squirrel.

Look, just because someone is willing to put their money where their mouth is like this doesn't automatically make them an authority on anything. At best, it means that they're willing to put a price tag on their own ego. At worst, they're just a dumb blowhard who doesn't understand how gambling works.

When Dan Fritschie isn’t catching grief from some jackal in the comments section because these bylines are a little too self-indulgent for their tastes, he can be found doing stand-up comedy somewhere. You can also find him on Twitter.

Top image: Cicret Bracelet

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