It wasn't too bad from time to time seeing you answer questions about scams and hoax devices, but now it seems like a lot of your energy and brain power is wasted on that stuff. As a long time reader, every time I see a new letter answered that ends with "I'm sure it's a hoax but I just wanted to ask you" I die a little inside. You'd think by this time, with as much as we are all connected to the world, news, and technology we would just realize that if it's too good to be true it probably is... and if it ends up being true, we'll know about it soon enough. Anyway, take that how you will, I'll still idolize you in any case.
That'd better be a golden idol, and a damn big one, if you know what's good for you.
Unfortunately for Jordan, though, I find scams and hoaxes fascinating. Not so much when it's the the same scam over and over, like those ridiculous "power saver" things, of course. But there's always something new.
Just today, for instance, I discovered that New York City currently contains hundreds and hundreds of locksmiths. Do a Google Maps search and it looks as if the city has a life-threatening case of the measles.
It turns out that almost all of these companies are fake. They get themselves listed as "emergency locksmiths" in the phone book, Google Maps and so on at a fake address (which may be the address of a legitimate locksmith). And then, when someone has one of those special lock-related emergencies and calls the "local" company, the rip-offs commence.
Apparently, what they usually do is make you wait while they drive to your place from wherever they actually are, and then charge you way more than they quoted. In this respect, they're a bit like the numerous rip-off camera stores that also infest NYC.
But there's a lot more a crooked locksmith could do. I imagine burglary and locksmithing go together very well - it's ever so much more civilised to let yourself into a victim's house through the front door while he's at work, rather than break a window. Many of the bogus locksmiths seem to be completely incompetent, though, so I suppose there aren't all that many gentleman thieves among them.
Bogus-locksmith disease appears to be more communicable than the bogus-camera-store version. The camera stores are still pretty much restricted to New York, but the locksmiths are spreading right across the USA.
The novelty in this scam is the intersection with online mapping systems, which are being made useless by the tide of fake-company spam that makes it impossible to see which "local" locksmith is actually real. Word of mouth has always been the best way to find good local tradespeople, but until someone comes up with a way to filter the fakes out of services like Google Maps, there's now no other option.
(I wouldn't like to be the person trying to fix this. If the fake-filtering accidentally removes some real locksmiths from the map, I bet someone's going to get sued. Perhaps people could just call locksmiths at random, and whenever one arrives demanding far more money than he quoted, shoot him. That could work.)
Apart from the mapping thing, the locksmith scam is just boring overcharging of captive customers. It doesn't have the elegance of a classic grift, like the one where a door-to-door salesman sells elderly people a safe for their valuables that's disguised as a Bible, then breaks into the house a week later to retrieve the safe and its contents.
Some of the classic scams have been made impossible by advancing technology. Look at the "replace all your light bulbs for only $5" one, for instance. The scammer in this case actually started out with only one house-worth of bulbs, and from then on he just moved used bulbs from each house to the next, collecting his fee each time. Now that people are using expensive compact fluorescents, though, that one doesn't really fly. (There's still this dumb variant and the Robin Hood version, but that doesn't make any money.)
Some scams that seemed to die have been reborn, though. For a while there it seemed that the boiler room, for instance, was dead, because you couldn't get away with faking stock trades after everybody switched to Internet brokers. But now it turns out that the boiler rooms just got much bigger and took a new name - "hedge funds".