Ashley Madison hack could lead down road to serious trouble for important people.
Perhaps you haven’t been following the story, but the marital infidelity website Ashley Madison suffered a security breach in July by a hacktivist group called Impact Team in which all its account records were stolen. At first Ashley Madison’s parent corporation Avid Life Media tried to claim its data remained secure, but it later emerged that Ashley Madison’s client database was completely compromised. For the uninitiated, Ashley Madison hooks up marrieds who want to have affairs, and while most sensible people would think that's a terrible idea, the site had generated millions of clients. Impact Team demanded the site be shut down or all the user records would be published, and yesterday the group made good on that threat and posted 9.7 gigs of records from as many as 32 million users in 46 countries.
Generally, we’re in favor of digital civil disobedience, but this latest raid seems a bit out of character for the various anonymous hacker collectives. At least until you dig a little deeper. Impact Team’s proclamation says in part, “Keep in mind the site is a scam with thousands of fake female profiles. See Ashley Madison fake profile lawsuit; 90-95% of actual users are male.” Exposing mass fraud seems more in line with the usual hacktivist modus operandi, but there’s more. Approximately 15,000 Ashley Madison accounts carry a .gov or .mil web address. Yes, you read that right—more than 15,000 of the accounts go directly back to U.S. military or government IPs. Some even carry a White House home address.
Thus, the moral posturing about sexual infidelity (Impact Team writes, “Find yourself in here? It was ALM that failed you and lied to you. Prosecute them and claim damages. Then move on with your life. Learn your lesson and make amends.”) feels a bit like a smokescreen. In reality, this hack has very likely put a major scare into the political class. Some of the addresses are probably fake (the White House ones are good candidates, because we doubt any White House employees are thatdumb, whereas people who hate the government would be more than willing to spend the time and effort to set up fake profiles). But then some of the addresses most definitely aren’t fake.
The account information is only available so far on the dark web, but we’re very curious to see if anyone follows up on the details of those .gov addresses. There’s no telling who’s at the other end, and we can hardly wait for the denials to start. It's just delicious to think that, after passing all sorts of intrusive laws designed to corral and track internet users, the same politicians could end up being the foxes to a bunch of curious citizens' hounds. Could it actually happen? We have no idea, but we can dream can't we? Stay tuned.
What's the key to easy profit? Get people to buy what you've acquired for free.
There’s nothing quite like the unregulated internet. We were wandering around Ebay—our favorite conduit for buying vintage magazines—when we spied this postcard of Swedish actress Christina Lindberg performing a dance number in a Japanese nightclub circa 1973. It’s a very nice image, and it’s available for $13.00 plus shipping, which can be considered exorbitant or a bargain, depending on your feelings about this type of material in general and Ms. Lindberg in particular. Problem is, it’s an image from Sangre Yakuza, a long running Japanophile blog. The shot was posted there a couple of years ago and you can click over and snag it for free right now. Doubtless the Ebay seller saw the scan and figured, "What the fuck? An image like that might sell as a postcard." And it will—when we last checked there were three prospective buyers watching the auction.
Interestingly, this isn’t the first time we’ve noticed this happening with Lindberg. A few years ago we found one of our own scans for sale on Ebay. We wrote about that here. We can’t really blame these sellers for trying such a maneuver, but it just goes to show that you have to be careful what you’re paying for on Ebay because the company itself doesn’t police these practices. In fact, under Ebay guidelines the seller isn’t breaking any rules—he would be if he tried to sell the image as an original photo, but a postcard is by definition a reprint. It doesn’t really matter where it was reprinted from. Still, though, it’s a bit scammy considering he took it from a publicly available webpage and probably printed the postcards on his HP Deskjet. Anyway, we’ve posted the shot below, without the obnoxious watermark, along with the cover page of the magazine feature in which it appears. As a public service.
Everything being said by people who hate Bank of America was proved true by our recent experience.
At Pulp Intl. we have an entire category labeled “swindles and scams,” and we think this qualifies. It all started when a cash card we rely upon stopped working a few days before Christmas. Terrible timing, of course. Gifts to buy, revelry to enjoy. But the screen of the cash machine read in glowing green letters: Transaction not possible. An immediate call to Bank of America revealed that they had cancelled the card. Why? Because a new one had been sent. But that made no sense—nothing had arrived in the mail. We asked, baffled, “So you cancelled the card without permission, even though it hasn’t expired and a new one hasn’t been activated?”
The associate, who called himself Elton, said, “The old card is expired.”
“No, it’s cancelled. You cancelled it. But it isn’t expired. It was supposed to run until December 31.”
“No, the card is only active until December 2013. That means it can be cancelled anytime during the month.”
“I have the card right here. It says it’s active until the last day of December.”
“No, it doesn’t say that.”
“Yes, it does.”
“It does not.” (See below)
Now, we had to wonder, do they not know what their own cards say? But of course they know. It’s just that Elton’s default move when told the bank had made a mistake was to lie, just like his superiors lie to investors, and the top executives lie to the entire world. When in doubt, just lie. But to make matters worse, he crossed the line from merely lying to blaming the customer. That’s the strategy they tried with the mortgage crisis, so perhaps it’s in the corporate bylaws somewhere. Maybe BofA should simply change its call center greeting to, “Thank you for calling Bank of America. We can’t help you, and it’s your fault.”
During the nine calls made to Bank of America, we were told variously that the social security number we gave them was not on file thus we had no account there; a new cash card had been sent; a new cash card had not been sent; and that two cash cards were already open on the account. In a truly bizarre turn, during one encounter we answered the three security questions we’d selected for account verification, but Elton (again) decided that, though we had fulfilled our security requirements, that wasn’t enough and he asked us a fourth question we got wrong. He demanded to know at which branch we’d opened the account, which was something we couldn’t remember after having lived in three countries and five cities since then. So then what was the point of the pre-selected security questions? Apparently nothing—the bank can simply quiz callers until they get something wrong. Their ace-in-the-hole is probably to ask the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.
But maybe Bank of America is simply too busy to actually help customers. After all, in 2013 alone it lost a $2.43 billion lawsuit for hiding income, a $39 million gender bias lawsuit, had to pay a $404 million settlement related to mortgage fraud, a $165 million settlement over defrauding unions, and that isn’t even a full list. Based on available evidenceBank of America is an extraordinarily corrupt institution that absolutely sucks all the way down to the little slot in its cash machines. The eventual resolution of our particular fiasco was this: a new card arrived after two weeks (no faster unless we wanted to pay out of pocket for express mail). Now that it’s here, we’re going to empty the account and Bank of America will be out of our lives forever.
There is one positive to all this: having been treated as if we don’t exist by the bank, we at least have the option of telling tens of thousands of Pulp Intl. visitors what happened. Does it matter in the end? Doubtful. Does the bank care? Certainly not. But at least we can add another anecdote to the growing tome of horror stories about Bank of America. And sharing our story here feels better than merely passing bad word of mouth to a few buddies at the bar. So thanks for listening. Now we can get back to your regularly scheduled pulp with all that off our minds.
Routine site maintenance uncovers two different types of scams.
If you live in the U.S, today you’re probably celebrating Thanksgiving, maybe watching some football. But people where we live don’t know from Thanksgiving, so with nothing else to do today we decided to go back through some of the old posts on the website to make sure all the external links were still working. Interestingly, we noticed that the first two dead links cycled around for a few moments, then sent us to functioning pages that had nothing to do with the original articles. For instance, a link in our post on Lee Harvey Oswald’s coffin sent us to the front page of The Huffington Post. Is having dead links on your website now the equivalent of leaving your sunglasses in a restaurant? They’re okay to steal because they’ve been temporarily forgotten? Well, not in our universe. In the next couple of days we’re going to ferret out all the dead links on Pulp Intl. and redirect them to relevant content. We’d be surprised if there are even half a dozen, but we’ll fix them
Second thing we noticed—this happened earlier this week—is that on a couple of auction sites there are sellers offering Pulp Intl. scans as photographs. How do we know they’re ours? Well, we’d love to say it’s because nobody else has these pieces of art, but clearly, someone else could have acquired them too. No, we know because we retouched the scans and the alterations are still there. When Pulp Intl. content is reposted on a blogspot or tumblr, that’s more people sharing rarely seen art, which is a good thing, plus it helps our traffic. But when someone takes images from a website and sells them as original photos, that’s low. The Christina Lindberg image above is one of the ones we found, and it came from our post here (we won’t link to the auction because that’ll just turn into another dead link in a few days). So the lesson is caveat emptor, people. Now enjoy that turkey.
Man claims to have spotted sea monster in Norway.
You can add Norway to the list of countries with a mysterious sea serpent. Or not. Last week Andreas Solvik and two friends were in a small boat on Lake Hornindalsvatnet in the southwestern part of country when they saw a disturbance on the water. Solvik snapped the photo you see above. We’ve taken a good look it and we gotta say, what we think Solvik saw was a disturbance in his bank account and he cooked up a hoax to make a few kroner on the side. Lake Hornindalsvatnet actually does have a legend about a kjempeorm, or monster, associated with it, and because it’s the deepest lake in Europe, there’s a feeling among some locals that a monster might be able to survive uncaptured, but only among laymen. When a local scientist was asked for his take, he theorized that because the area has an extensive logging industry, what Solvik photographed and what people have seen for many years are probably either logs, or masses of sawdust that sat on the lakeshore for a while collecting algae before finally floating into deeper water. That's an interesting theory, but we don’t think Andreas Solvik photographed something that turned out to be wood. We think he Photoshopped something that he hoped would turn into money. Check below and see what you think.
Star of Crocodile Dundee movies runs afoul of Aussie tax authorities.
Australian film star Paul Hogan, who charmed the cinema world twenty-four years ago playing Mick “Crocodile” Dundee, was in his native Australia for his mother’s funeral this week when he received another piece of bad news. Australian tax authorities had issued an order preventing the grieving star from leaving the country until he settles a bill for outstanding taxes. According to their records—and as we all know, the tax office’s records are the only ones that matter—Hogan owes on a whopping $38 million. Seems he relocated to Los Angeles shortly after his film franchise took off and never bothered to pay taxes in his native country. Authorities say he squirreled his cash away in offshore bank accounts. The exact amount they are demanding hasn’t been disclosed, but it’s safe to say this is going to be the biggest croc Hogan ever wrestled.
Federal prosecutors say defrauding clients out of two million bucks was a slam dunk for Jay Vincent.
Yesterday, former professional basketball player Jay Vincent, who played for the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, and other teams during a nine year NBA career, was indicted on a variety of counts relating to an alleged scheme to defraud 20,000 job seekers. Vincent’s Foreclosure Bank Inspection, Co. offered people work nationwide inspecting homes that had been returned to bank ownership. His company took care of the necessary training for the job, but there was a catch—applicants had to pass a background check. These checks (which are constitutionally dubious, in our view, since they result in applicants being refused jobs for transgressions like having a poor credit score) cost upwards of eighty dollars, but once Vincent’s desperate applicants paid the fee, prosecutors say his company simply pocketed the money.
How much cash do they claim was made on this scam? Two million dollars. That’s a 2 with six zeros after it. If true, this is sad on two levels: first, that a former NBA player who probably had a thousand other opportunities went this route; and second, that jobseekers who were being crushed by a recession had no choice but to feed on the corpses of people who had already been crushed before them. Vincent has had no comment thus far, but his attorney has described the former basketballer as a “legitimate businessman engaged in legal activities”, which we think is like claiming to be a “legitimate cigarette marketing executive”, or a “legitimate geologist for a mining company that blows the tops off pristine Appalachian hills and dumps them in valleys, destroying wildlife and contaminating groundwater”. In other words, “legal” isn’t a synonym for moral—at least not in our book. But unfortunately, we didn’t write the book everyone else is playing by—Wall Street did. And it seems as if Vincent may have memorized it chapter and verse.
Ex-mayor of Cancún tagged on drug charges.
Yesterday in Mexico, the former mayor of the resort city of Cancún was arrested for allegedly laundering millions of dollars of drug money through a group of secret bank accounts. Police detained Gregorio Sanchez Martinez—who is in the midst of a campaign for governor of the state of Quintana Roo—at Cancún International Airport after he had arrived on a flight from Mexico City. The Federal Attorney General’s Office has formally accused him of selling information and protection to two drug gangs—the Zetas, and the Beltran Leyva Cartel—both of which control drug distribution in Quintana Roo.
However, Sanchez says he is being victimized by blackmailers. On his website he claimed he had been threatened, and that one of the messages he received stated: “Resign from the race, or we are going to put you in jail or kill you.” At least one high-profile politician has come out in defense of Sanchez, agreeing that he was likely set up, and an article posted on the site this morning attempted to drum up citizen support, and promised that Sanchez would fight the good fight in opposing the charges and still needs votes come July, when the election is scheduled.
Sanchez’s arrest is yet another embarrassment for Mexico, however, it’s also a blow for the U.S., which pretends—publicly at least—that the American demand for drugs is not the true driver of Mexico’s cartel troubles. Often, Mexican politicians will point out this dark symbiosis, but in this instance officials south of the border have so far been circumspect. Current Quintana Roo governor Felix Gonzalez Cantu said only that, “This takes us all by surprise—it is unprecedented.”
Committee finds that News of the World hacked on an industrial scale.
In Britain, a growing scandal has ensnared Rupert Murdoch, head of News International, and Andy Coulson, who was editor of the News International paper News of the World before becoming communications director for Conservative Party leader David Cameron. In short, News of the World hacked into voicemail accounts and computerized police records, and also extracted confidential information from banking computers. Murdoch claims to have known nothing about it, but yesterday a committee of MPs concluded an investigation into the matter by accusing News International execs of engaging in “obfuscation” and suffering from “collective amnesia.”
While Murdoch has taken some heat for the mess, the investigation into the hacking has increasingly turned toward Andy Coulson, who, while editor of News of the World, employed four private investigators to dig up dirt on public figures. Nineteen victims of the hacking have been identified, but records show that ninety-one were targeted. To make matters worse, Scotland Yard resisted investigating the matter, has refused to comply with Freedom of Information requests concerning the investigation, and failed to notify those whose cellphone pin codes were found in possession of one of News of the World’s PIs. This means that public figures who suspect being targeted by News of the World have been forced to launch their own investigations to discover whether they were victims.
If all this seems to point toward a culture of criminality within News of the World, also consider that the paper recently paid a £792,000 settlement to a reporter who experienced harassment at the hands of Coulson, and last year paid out another large settlement to Professional Footballers Association head Gordon Taylor for illegally intercepting his phone records. Back then News International and Rupert Murdoch issued statements assuring the public that the reporter responsible for the phone tampering, Clive Goodman, was an “aberration” within the company. Now, half a year later, a bipartisan committee of MPs has described the hacking as having taken place “on an industrial scale.”
Perhaps most interesting is the fact that, while Murdoch claims to have no knowledge of these matters, his newspapers, which he touts as exemplars of balanced reporting, hid the story in their Thursday editions. While The Guardian and other papers devoted multiple pages to what is one of the biggest scandals of the year and quoted directly from the official report, Murdoch’s Sun buried 135 words on the matter between an ad and a weather map of Ireland, his Times printed a mere 230 words, and his Daily Telegraph was able to manage only 325.
Newsflash: it's possible Vegas casinos help customers get drunk just so they’ll lose their money.
In the U.S. last week, Terrance Watanabe, an Omaha, Nebraska retail king who made millions of dollars selling party favors, filed a lawsuit claiming that two Las Vegas casinos allowed him to gamble away most of his fortune while too drunk to make rational decisions. The arithmetic is astoun-ding. He lost in excess of $125 million, including $5 million during one twenty-four hour stretch in 2007, and his losses represented about five percent of the 2007 profits of Caesar's Palace and The Rio. Watanabe made good on over $100 million in debts, but has balked at paying the rest. In the past he would have ended up in a desert grave with Joe Pesci shoveling sand in his face, but the post-millennial Vegas is a kinder gentler place, and the two casinos instead sicced their legal pitbulls on him, which resulted in his arrest.
But the case is not as open-and-shut as it seemed at first. Witnesses have come forward and testified that Watanabe was staggering drunk most—if not all—of the time he gambled. At both Caesar’s and Rio he had a personal bartender assigned to him, and he also claims the casinos furnished painkillers—the type you’re not supposed to mix with alcohol. Even a Caesar’s security guard has come forward, allegedly telling defense lawyers that he doesn’t remember ever seeing Watanabe in a sober state. These may seem like interesting but irrelevant facts (after all, at most casinos drinks are free for gamers) but it just so happens that allowing a customer to gamble while seriously impaired is against Nevada Gaming Commission rules. And not that this is a scientific assessment by any means, but the guy looks plastered even in his court photos. Basically, he’d be totally screwed if he weren’t rich—not because of his influence, which pales in comparison to a casino's—but because the nature of betting so much money means witnesses are plentiful. Sometimes Watanabe had a crowd around him as he simultaneously played three blackjack hands at the $20,000 minimum tables. The casinos, of course, deny that anything untoward occurred and have mobilized their own army of witnesses. Right now Watanabe is free on bail, and the case goes to trial next year.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1966—LSD Declared Illegal in U.S.
LSD, which was originally synthesized by a Swiss doctor and was later secretly used by the CIA on military personnel, prostitutes, the mentally ill, and members of the general public in a project code named MKULTRA, is designated a controlled substance in the United States.
1945—Hollywood Black Friday
A six month strike by Hollywood set decorators becomes a riot at the gates of Warner Brothers Studios when strikers and replacement workers clash. The event helps bring about the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, which, among other things, prohibits unions from contributing to political campaigns and requires union leaders to affirm they are not supporters of the Communist Party.
1957—Sputnik Circles Earth
The Soviet Union launches the satellite Sputnik I, which becomes the first artificial object to orbit the Earth. It orbits for two months and provides valuable information about the density of the upper atmosphere. It also panics the United States into a space race that eventually culminates in the U.S. moon landing.
1970—Janis Joplin Overdoses
American blues singer Janis Joplin is found dead on the floor of her motel room in Los Angeles. The cause of death is determined to be an overdose of heroin, possibly combined with the effects of alcohol.
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