Four Hilariously Pointless Scams

Is it even really a scam if it makes you laugh and doesn’t hurt anyone in the end?
Four Hilariously Pointless Scams

As proven by numerous podcasts and documentaries, scamming is big business, and not just for the scammers. Sometimes, though, a fraudulent heart is also pure. Whether they’re big fans determined to procure some kind of experience by whatever means necessary or just in possession of a set of impressive big balls, some people scam just for the love of the game. Like…

Filippo Bernardini Just Really Loves Books

When Bernardini was working as a low-level publishing industry lackey, he fell victim to a raging case of jealousy of those above him. Not for their fancy offices or vacation homes — he was incensed that they got to read books by renowned authors before he did. In a fit of nerd rage, he set up an email address to impersonate an industry insider and managed to procure the first score of his brand-new career as a conman: an unpublished manuscript.

“When that request was successful, from that moment on, this behavior became an obsession, a compulsive behavior,” Bernardini later said, ultimately acquiring more than 1,000 manuscripts from authors including Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan and Sally Rooney. He never leaked, sold or profited off the manuscripts in any sense other than making himself “one of the fewest to cherish them before anyone else,” because he was, again, an enormous nerd.

In fact, his fraud was so apparently selfless that no one was quite sure how to punish him. “I have no idea what to do with this case, and I’ve thought about it a lot,” said the judge after he pleaded guilty to wire fraud. Several of the people he impersonated or stole from even defended him to the court, one arguing that, if anything, having his manuscript stolen was kind of fun and interesting. Ultimately, Bernardini was sentenced to time served, having accidentally pulled off the greater scam of confusing his way out of jail.

Alan Conway Just Really Loved Show Business

By the 1990s, Conway had decades of fraud under his belt, and Stanley Kubrick hadn’t been spotted in public in about as long. Those two things might seem unrelated, and they really should be, but Conway, being the sort of man who seriously named himself that, recognized the opportunity that absolutely had not fallen in his lap. Kubrick had always hidden behind a cocoon of facial and regular hair, after all, and so many years later, who even knew what he would look like? Anyone could be Kubrick. So Conway decided he could be Kubrick.

A saner scammer would leverage such a claim to finance films that never materialized, but Conway never monetarily gained from impersonating Kubrick (outside of the odd drink or meal, and there are much easier ways to get those, especially as a gay man in the ‘90s). He mostly used his false identity to get into semi-exclusive clubs and schmooze with C-list celebrities, all of whom were so flattered by the idea of Kubrick’s attention that they didn’t question it. One even became surprised but convinced that Kubrick was gay, noting that “everyone always thought Hal the computer acted like a jealous gay lover.”

Eventually, Kubrick himself got word of his evil twin and found it hilarious. Eerily, both men died within a few months of each other in the late ‘90s, but Conway went first, so now who’s the copycat?

Artur Baptista da Silva Just Hated Government Austerity

Like Conway, Baptista da Silva was no stranger to the scam. He spent much of the 1990s in and out of prison for financial crimes, his latest stint as recently as 2011. If anything, that made him uniquely qualified to reinvent himself as a political pundit the following year. Armed with a stolen thesis and fake business cards, declaring himself a former advisor to the World Bank and Portuguese President Joaio Sampaio and current U.N. researcher and professor at a university that didn’t exist, he started showing up at political events, radio stations and TV studios, where he railed against the Lisbon government’s budget cuts to the political equivalent of screaming sorority sisters throwing their panties onstage.

Baptista da Silva didn’t get paid for any of these appearances; it seemed his only motive was a genuine distaste for the current administration’s fiscal policies and the realization that he had the skills to manufacture authority in that department. He got found out quick after one TV station finally got around to confirming with the U.N. that they had no idea who he was, after which he vanished in a puff of distraction, but not before declaring, “Calling me a scammer has been easy! But never, until now, have I seen them call fraudsters the 50 largest debtors of BPN who, in fact, defrauded the Portuguese State, in an amount equivalent to 1 percent of GDP.” 

He went on like that for some time, and like, he probably has a point. Just because someone is a fraud doesn’t mean they’re not right.

Barry Bremen Just Loved Sports

Unlike these other guys, Bremen never really did anything illegal. He also made his money on the up and up, maintaining primary gigs selling toys and insurance. His thing was sneaking onto courts/fields/occasionally awards shows and posing as someone who belonged there. His first foray into this venture was impersonating a member of the Kansas City Kings during warm-ups before an NBA All-Star game in 1979, followed by posing for photos with the Yankees, attempting to umpire a 1980 World Series game, hitting a practice round at the U.S. Open and even getting out a single cheer dressed as a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader before he was ejected. His only apparent non-sports antic was accepting an Emmy on behalf of actress Betty Thompson, also the only stunt for which he was arrested, probably as surprised as we are to find out that’s illegal.

These cons made Bremen a celebrity in his own right in the sports world of the 1980s, earning him the nickname “The Great Imposter” and interviews with Johnny Carson and People magazine, but not only did he not profit from them, they often occurred at considerable expense. The cheerleading stunt alone cost him $1,200 in 1980 money, 23 pounds to fit into the costume and the risk of appearing in drag surrounded by jocks in 1980. We all have our passions, and his was sneaking onto professional sporting surfaces, and he did it better than anyone else in his, uh, field. He only “retired” after facility security started tightening up in the aftermath of 9/11, proof positive that the terrorists won.

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