Home > Uncategorized > My favorite scams of 2015

My favorite scams of 2015

December 23, 2015

Am I the only person who’s noticed just a whole lot of scams recently? I blame it on our global supply chain that’s entirely opaque and impenetrable to the outsider. We have no idea how things are made, what they’re made with, or how the end results get shipped around the world.

Seriously, anything goes. And that’s probably not going to change. The question is, will scams proliferate, or will we figure out an authentication system?

Who knows. For now, let’s just remind ourselves of a few recent examples (and please provide more in the comments if you think of any!).

  1. VW’s cheating emissions scandal, obviously. That’s the biggest scam that came out this year, and it happened to one of the biggest car companies in the world. We’re still learning how it went down, but clearly lots of people were in on it. What’s amazing to me is that no whistleblower did anything; we learned about it from road tests by an external group. Good for them.
  2. Fake artisanal chocolate from Brooklyn. The Amish-looking hipsters just melted chocolate they bought. I mean, the actual story is a bit more complicated and you should read it, but it just goes to show you how much marketing plays a part in this stuff. But expert chocolate lovers could tell the difference, which is kind of nice to know.
  3. Fake bamboo products at Bed, Bugs, & Beyond. I call it that because whenever one of my friends gets bedbugs (it happens periodically in NYC) I go with them to B, B & B for new sheets and pillows. It’s fun. Anyhoo, they were pretending to sell bamboo products but it was actually made from rayon. And before you tell me that rayon is made from plant cellulose, which it is, let me explain that the chemical process that turns plants into cellulose (called extruding) is way more involved and harmful to the environment than simply grabbing bamboo fibers. That’s why people pay more for bamboo products, because they think they’re having less environmental impact.
  4. We eat horsemeat all the fucking time, including in 2015. This is a recurring story (I’m looking at you, Ikea) but yes, it also happened in 2015.
  5. And last but not least, my favorite scam of 2015, a yarn distributor called Trendsetter Yarns was discovered to be selling Mimi, a yarn from Lotus Yarns in China, which was labeled as “100% mink” when it was in fact an angora mix with – and this is the most outrageous part – 17% nylon fibers mixed in!!! As you can imagine, the fiber community was thrown into a tizzy when this came out; we yarn snobs turn up our noses at nylon. The story is that a woman who is allergic to angora, and who had bought the “100% mink” yarn specifically so that she’d have no reaction, did, and got suspicious, and sent it to a lab. Bingo, baby.

This skein might look 100% mink, but it’s not.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. December 23, 2015 at 10:18 am

    I’ll just throw out 3 things of note:

    1) In case you’re not already aware of it there’s this site (…you know, in case you ever run short of enough scams to follow):

    2) More an outright crime than a scam, this recent news about state lotteries being fixed by an insider:

    3) And again, not a scam, but an example from today’s news of an algorithm or piece of software being f’d-up:

    p.s., I think Nigeria should receive some sort of lifetime award for scam-redundancy, if not originality (I still get a ton of these).


  2. dotkaye
    December 23, 2015 at 1:51 pm

    In Lausanne some years ago, in every restaurant I went to the most expensive thing on the menu was ‘Filet de Cheval’. There’s nothing objectively wrong about eating horsemeat as such..


    A similar scam was found by Consumer Reports for fish, back in 2011.
    “The label said red snapper, the lab said baloney. None of the 22 ‘red snappers’ we bought at 18 markets could be positively identified as such. 12 of them were ocean perch.”
    About a fifth of all fish samples were mislabeled. I’m sure it is no better today.

    Then there was the melamine in Chinese pet food, 2007, 2012, and soon to be found again.

    My favorite for the year was a guy who tried to sell rebranded Chinese-made aero bike wheels as the results of new research, on a website full of dedicated aero bike geeks. Hilarity ensued,


    That scam shut down almost as soon as it started..


    • Auros
      December 25, 2015 at 4:08 pm

      IIRC, the melamine in pet food made its way in because various protein supplements (like gluten powder) that were being used in pet food had been laced with that chemical; and the reason they were doing that is that folks were trying to test the protein content of the stuff they were purchasing, but the test couldn’t tell the difference between an inorganic nitrogen-rich molecule like melamine, and actual protein.

      Anyways, it just goes to show that if you’re running mass production of stuff, you need to run better tests, and send inspectors to your suppliers’ plants regularly (or, you know, vote for high enough taxes to fund public agencies that can send inspectors on behalf of everyone, so that people who are willing to risk buying tainted inputs don’t have a cost advantage in bringing their products to market).

      The other recurring Chinese food scandal I love is the one about how they like to bleach wheat noodles to make them look like glass noodles (which are made from mung bean flour). Has happened at least twice in the last decade, I think. I sometimes worry about whether stuff that’s stamped as being made in Japan or Thailand, in Asian grocery stores in the US, might actually be fraudulently labeled from China. :-/


  3. andeux
    December 24, 2015 at 5:09 pm

    You left out Theranos, whose “if you parse our lies carefully enough they weren’t actually lies, at least in the legal sense” defense is very similar to what the Mast brothers are now saying.

    Liked by 1 person

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