Long running fraudster’s luck finally runs out

Online scams are as ubiquitous as mosquitoes in a swamp; they pop up everywhere in various guises – some so obvious that only the most gullible could fall for them, some so devious and expertly constructed that even experienced scam-detectors can be convinced.

The majority fall somewhere in between, directed at a specific segment of the consumer market. Anyone hoping to loose that extra poundage before bikini time will find countless offers for products that will do the trick. A ‘miracle drug from made Saguaro cactus that the medical industry is keeping secret’ or a ‘simple trick to remove unsightly wrinkles that only takes two minutes a day for two weeks’ – there are ads like that everywhere you look.

Sometimes they go way too far, like James McCormick, the wealthy UK businessman who got a lot wealthier selling hand-held devices that purported to detect explosives, drugs, gemstones, ivory – and people, no matter how they were concealed. He sold hundreds of them at around £27,000 a pop, mostly to countries at war and especially to Iraq. He sold them to the government in Baghdad and some are reportedly still in ‘use’.

This went on for several years before an investigation led to his arrest and finally, last Tuesday, to a conviction of fraud in a British court. The court said the devices were completely bogus; they were in fact modelled on a whimsical golfball finder that sold in the U.S. for about $20.00. How he got away with the scam for so long is still in question, though authorities suspect a lot of bribery was involved.

In a case like that, fraud is a mild term for knowingly endangering anyone who relied on the fake detectors. However, the term is also applied to basically harmless scams like the ones that offer totally non-scientific spells, hexes, blessings, magic potions and such. The sale of such literature and paraphernalia has been banned on eBay but there’s plenty around if you’re looking.

You can still get a ‘Vampire Facelift’ – the ‘doctor’ takes some of your blood, spins it a bit and injects it into your face ‘to keep you looking eternally young’. A medical professional, when asked about the procedure, remarked that buyers are basically paying for a painless bruise.

There are zillions of scams and rip-offs, but when someone makes a great deal of money on a product they know is not only useless but quite likely to cause suffering and death for its users, the penalty should be a great deal heavier than the one for sending out bogus love potions. McCormick is due for sentencing on May 2, and may be Force be against him.