Why settle for $$$? Demand $$$$$$$$$$$$!

I just saw a Make Money Fast ad on some site or other that promised a "multiple six figure income".

Now there's a phrase to conjure with, eh? And as I write this, Google gives an imposing "about 17,600" results if you search for it.

If you take "multiple" to mean "at least two times", then I suppose it's possible that they're promising you a six-figure income and... another six-figure income.

I prefer to think, though, that all of those pages, in between their misspellings and unpredictable capital letters, are actually offering punters a twelve-figure income.

If the value of "multiple" is three, then there could be an eighteen-figure income going begging!

The Gross Domestic Product of all the nations of the world put together is either about fifty-five trillion or about sixty-five trillion US dollars, depending on how you measure it. That's only 14 figures. So those 17,600 get-rich-quick pages may, I like to think, be promising that you, by yourself, will be making at least one six-hundred-and-fiftieth of the entire world's aggregate gross income. Or around one per cent of the GDP of the USA.

Even if "twelve figures" includes two for the cents, you'd still be doing pretty bleeding well.

Or, of course, the promise might only be 12 figures of income in the worthless currency of some collapsing African dictatorship. An eighteen-figure income in Zimbabwe dollars would only be worth a few tens of thousands of US dollars, as I write this. (They announced 100-trillion-dollar - fifteen-digit - banknotes just the other day, not that they've got much of a way to pay anybody to print them.)

This reminds me of an old scam that promises to make you money via a mystic series of international currency conversions. The actual promise the scammer makes, though, is that he'll turn the $1000 you send him into "One Million In Legal Tender Currency!!", or something similar. Dumb-enough marks presumably don't notice this, or mistake it for some sort of technical term used by the great Jewish Mercantile Conspiracy whose secret wealth-creation system the scammer claims he's making available to honest Christian folk. But, of course, the promise actually means that in return for $US1000, you and your fellow suckers are going to get back one million People's Democratic Socialist Utopia of East Umbopoland Glorified Pfennig-Rands, worth $US7.61.

The idea is that this isn't a scam, see, on account of how the scammer never promised you anything other than a million units of some currency or other. I think this "loophole" is the same as those of a lot of other scams; it's utterly worthless in the eyes of the law, but it sounds vaguely-plausible-enough to stop some of the ripped-off suckers from calling the police.

(The people who fall for this sort of thing usually don't twig to the fact that if there's some rapid sequence of financial transactions that's guaranteed to turn $100 into $110, you could just do it over and over until all of the currency in the world resided in your bank account. If your system guarantees a 10% return and you reinvest the gain every time, then if you start with $100 and run the system only 200 times, you'll have $18,990,527,646.)

I think I know what the real explanation for the "multiple six figure income" thing is, though. It's just that the people running these scams are, if anything, even dumber than the people who fall for them.

(I await with interest the Google ads this post will attract. How many "figures" do you think will be on offer?)

Osculate your Altair today!

Mystifying advertisement

I think the best part of this mystifying advertisement from the latest DailyWTF post is the bit at the top where it asks you if you've kissed your computer lately.

Years ago, when I was working at ACAR/PC Review, we somehow ended up with dozens of boxed copies of an accounting package called, and I assure you I am not making this up, "Tungkiss Your Money".

On the box was a moderately realistic picture of a man holding his hands, full of gold coins, up to his mouth, so he could lovingly lick the bullion.

Andrew, the editor, was pretty good at finding ways to convert randomness like this into profit, or at least perks.

But we never could shift all those Tungkiss Your Moneys.

Steady as she goes, toward the cliff

Everybody else gets to sound off about the global financial crisis without actually knowing much about it, so I was pleased when a reader invited me to take my turn:

What's your take on the global financial crisis? You've never indicated you know anything whatsoever about finance, but you're usually "pretty on the ball" about everything else, so I though maybe you'd feel like blogging on this.


Indeed I do not know a lot about economics. My knowledge pretty much stops at how tax brackets work, and that copper is not a precious metal. But since readers of this blog know pretty much everything, I presume there will soon be some +5 Insightful comments at the bottom of this page, correcting the ghastly errors I am surely about to make.

(Or maybe there'll just be one guy saying that this is what we get for not listening to Lyndon LaRouche.)

I've no real opinion about what's going to happen to the US and/or global economies in the short term. Fortunately for me, I'm in Australia, which doesn't look like being squashed too hard. Australia has a healthy commodities sector, and major Australian financial institutions don't seem to have much exposure to the US problems. Yet.

In the long term, though, the USA and countries that depend upon it economically - which means just about all of them - are going to have to feel a lot of economic pain.

Both Presidential candidates know this, on account of how they're not idiots (so yes, I do suspect that only one of the vice-presidential candidates knows it too). But they wouldn't say a word about it even if you tortured them, on account of the great American allergy to ever paying more than about half of the tax that people in much nicer countries seem quite happy to pay.

Because the USA is taking on such colossal government debt, for the war(s) and the various bailouts, it seems to me to have only three options.

1: Just keep doing what it's doing, paying interest on the old debt by taking on new debt.
2: Jack up taxes and/or reduce spending so it doesn't have to increase its level of indebtedness, or may actually be able to pay the debt down.
3: Say "screw it", get drunk, and print more money.

The second approach is a sure-fire vote-loser. If it were me then I'd start out by taxing the absolute balls off the owners of any house of worship that seats more than a thousand people, but the USA is a country where 21% of the atheists apparently believe in God, so that probably wouldn't work too well.

The third option is what people often seem to think the USA is doing now - "creating" new money to bail out the financial sector. It's an awe-inspiringly dumb thing to do, though, and even the Bush administration isn't stupid enough to try it. (Robert Mugabe seems just fine with it, though.)

What the USA is actually doing, and what I presume they'll continue to do, is option 1, steady-as-she-goes. As long as people are reasonably confident that the government isn't going to fall on its sword by refusing to pay up when bonds mature, and that inflation isn't going to start running fast enough that a bond with a lousy 4% return will be worth less than you paid for it when it matures, then people will keep buying bonds, and the Treasury can just issue more and more of them and hope there's enough of a market to get 'em all sold. China is as addicted to selling stuff to Americans as Americans are addicted to buying it, so I presume it'll keep that economic perpetual-motion machine rolling, even if inflation does make bonds lose real value over time.

The borrow-more-to-pay-your-loans-off approach is an obvious loser for normal personal finance, but I think whole countries - and businesses, for that matter - can actually make it work, if their increase in national productivity means that their debt is not increasing, proportionally speaking. If you used to owe a million dollars and make 20 million dollars, and now owe two million and make 50 million, then proportionally speaking you've reduced your debt. You should find it easier to service, or pay down, the second debt than the first one.

During the terms of Republican presidents since Reagan, though, the USA has been taking on debt much faster than it's been increasing production, no matter which way you look at it (some people apparently regard this as a good thing).

The exact numbers are squirrelly - like unemployment statistics, they get harder and harder to measure the closer you look - but the cost of the wars and the 2008 bailouts will unquestionably greatly exceed Reagan's Savings and Loan "jackpot".

All of this has just got to shake through into a serious quality-of-life reduction for the average American some time soon. Either jacked-up taxes or a severely devalued currency, I think. The US national debt is overwhelmingly in US dollars, so if the $US drops to five Euro cents, it'll be much easier to dig enough stuff out of the ground to pay off the debt. (But a Toyota Camry will cost half a million dollars.)

There are ways in which the USA could spectacularly reduce governmental spending and thus make the situation far easier to handle, but I strongly doubt the most obvious one - giant military cutbacks, including closing many of the USA's more-than-700 military bases all over the world - has any chance of flying. The USA could cut four 400 billion dollars out of its annual military budget and still be spending twice as much as anyone else, but this sort of thing is so far-out that you won't even find the option to do it in "budget simulators".

Sci-fi writer Charles Stross wrote a very interesting essay about the current situation the other day. I agree with him that the USA's determination to not bend before the economic hurricane means we may see the world situation change far faster than anybody would have predicted only a few years ago.

(This Gawker piece is excellent, too.)

Awesome .999 Fine Lead Bullion! In convenient "pipe" shape!

Because I have a small element collection, I occasionally troll eBay for interesting metals.

Recently, I've noticed people selling "copper bullion".

This, for those of you not up on precious-metal terminology, is a contradiction in terms. Bullion ("No, not the little cubes you put in hot water to make soup.") is, by definition, precious metals. Gold, silver, platinum, palladium; a metal that's rare enough that it can be used as a reasonably portable means of exchange in its own right, not just struck into coins that can be used to purchase goods worth far more than the coins' intrinsic metal value.

Copper, on the other hand, is a "base metal". It's common enough that trading it by the ounce is ridiculous. As I write this, the spot price for copper is about $US3.85 per pound, not per ounce.

(It occurs to me that this may be the heart and soul of the copper bullion scam. Just charge as much per ounce as the metal is actually worth per pound, and wait for some Modern Jackass to take the bait.)

What people are trading for $3.85 a pound on the base metal markets may or may not be .999-purity "fine" copper, but it's actually quite easy to buy very pure copper from engineering suppliers, or indeed your local hardware store. You generally have to pay more to get copper that's been alloyed with something else.

Today, the price of copper has risen enough that many small-denomination copper coins are now worth more intrinsically than their face value. I've got a roll of fifty of the old, now withdrawn, Australian one-cent pieces here; it weighs about 132 grams, which at $US3.85 a pound makes this "fifty cent" roll worth about $AU1.15 right now.

That's still not a lot, though, and the notion of selling copper as bullion remains silly. There's no real market for it. If you go into one of those heavily-armoured shops that buys and sells gold and silver bullion and try to sell them a slab of copper, they'll laugh and send you on your way.

Precious-metal prices always rise whenever one or more of the world's great economies are in bad shape, so the USA's current enthusiastic attempt to commit economic suicide has created a big spike in gold and silver prices. As I write this, gold is worth around $US970 per troy ounce, and silver's around $US19. As recently as 2000, gold was worth less than $US290 per troy ounce, and silver was around five bucks an ounce.

One troy ounce of copper, at the moment, is worth about 26 US cents.

Even if you've got a tonne of copper, it'll still be worth less than $US8500 at the moment. $US8500 worth of gold currently weighs six-tenths of a pound.

And yet... there are people selling "copper bullion". EBay's rotten with 'em at the moment.

I just did a "completed items" search for "copper bullion" on eBay, and turned up one 1055-gram bar that went for $US34.05 ex delivery (value at $3.85 per pound: $US8.97), a one-pound bar that went for $US18.51 (and is now worth, that's right, $US3.85), and an overstruck US copper penny (you could still see the ghost of "ONE CENT" and the Lincoln Memorial through the crudely-restruck eagle and "1/10 TROY OUNCE .950 COPPER"...), which sold for $US3.25.

If that penny was genuinely a tenth of a troy ounce - which sounds near enough - then the 95% copper content in it might actually be worth as much as 2.5 cents now.

And on it went. Before I got too depressed to go on, I found at least one successfully-sold "MASSIVE!! 3 KILOS .999 Fine Copper Bullion Bar/ Ingot"... for $US140 plus delivery.

It's worth $US25.46.

I did like the little ingots (available in copper and silver!) stamped with an image of Martha Mitchell holding a telephone, though.

Even if you decide to get in on the ground floor by buying a hundred of the one-troy-ounce "Australian Copper Bullion" ingots currently on offer on ebay.com.au, what you've actually just bought is 6.86 pounds of copper, worth less than $US27.

As I write this, the eBay Buy It Now price for one of those packages of a hundred little ingots is $AU350 - about $US340 - plus delivery.

So even if the price of copper rises by a factor of ten, you won't have made your money back, unless you manage to find yourself a greater fool on whom to unload your zillions of little copper bookmarks.

I have a nice 25 by 15 by 250mm offcut of copper bar - I bought it from this seller, now on OZtion instead of eBay. It's great for demonstrating eddy-current magnetic braking, with a rare-earth magnet. But it weighs 827.5g, which is 26.6 troy ounces - ninety-three dollars and ten cents, at the $3.50-an-ounce "bullion" price!

I also bought a bunch of 3.5-inch copper boat nails a while ago. (Copper's used for boat nails because it won't corrode, and you can drive work-hardened copper nails through wood with no trouble; when I annealed one of the nails, though, I could bend it with ease.) I've given a few of the nails away, but have about 950 grams of 'em left, and I think they're quite pure copper.

The copper in the nails is worth only about eight bucks at the current spot price, and they cost me about forty Australian bucks delivered - but if I melted them down into fancy little ingots and sold them for $3.50 a troy ounce, they'd bring me well over a hundred dollars!

Heck, I've got a whole box of old CPU coolers, many of which have solid copper heat sinks! I'm a MILLIONAIRE!

(Oh, and I wrote the title for this page before I discovered that at least one eBay seller actually is selling "lead bullion". Oy.)

This scam's a weird one, though it's apparently been around for a while; Google for "copper bullion" and you'll find quite a lot of exceedingly dodgy Web sites trying to get you to buy the stuff. (One of the sites I found also linked to one of those "run your car on water" sites that always show up in the Google ads whenever I write about how you can't run your car on water.)

The scam would also appear to be quite well-known among people who spend a lot of time trading metals on eBay.

With any luck, this blog post will save at least one person from blowing their kids' university fund on vastly overpriced copper door-stops.

Mazda mania!

Car salesman sells new car to woman with bipolar disorder who only came in to have the oil changed in the other, six-month-old, car she bought from them. But she was in a manic state, and easily persuaded to buy a whole new car she totally didn't need.

Hilarity, and a lawsuit, ensue.

There's some pretty good discussion board fodder for the Capitalistas and the Weenies right there, eh?

(And let's not forget the burgeoning population of people who decide they must be mentally ill because that'll make them cool and important. They're usually well represented in Internet discussions concerning any of the diseases they wish they had.)

I was going to post this as a comment on the Jalopnik page, but it grew into something post-worthy by itself, at least according to the low standards of the Department of Unwelcome Education.

I am, in brief, on the side of the unfortunate purchaser. But not for the simple weenie-ish reasons you might think.

Very, and uncharacteristically, unwise financial decisions are almost diagnostic of a manic state.

A person suffering from full mania is quite likely to feel like the king of the world. Able to take on any project, tackle any problem, speak wisely on any subject. And, of course, pay back any debt. So "suffering" is often not really the appropriate word - you're high as a kite, and it doesn't cost you a penny or involve any illegal drugs.

Until you start buying new cars, having unprotected sex with strangers, buying illegal drugs, et cetera.

(Traditional mania-driven car purchases lean more towards the red-convertible end of the market than the seven-seat Mazda SUV in this story, but I suppose there's no accounting for taste.)

If you can avoid the believing-you-can-fly kinds of behaviours, and the more obnoxious stuff that's likely to lead to people locking you up somewhere, full-blown mania is arguably the best drug in the world. It's a shame that, in bipolar disorder, mania is usually followed by full-blown clinical depression. But what can I say. God's a bastard.

OK, sure, say the Capitalistas. Crazy lady bought car for crazy reason. But lady's craziness is not the car dealer's fault.

And, indeed, car salesmen are not expected to be able to tell whether the bright and bubbly individual who just decided to buy a car on the spur of the moment is entirely in their right mind or not. Let's face it, buying a new car is seldom a very sane act in the first place.

Salesmen also shouldn't - and, generally, don't - sell cars to people who're obviously in a severely mentally compromised state.

(The mildly compromised are still welcome, and may be the mainstay of the pickup-truck market.)

But there's seldom any way for an average Joe to tell the difference between someone who's in a manic state and someone who really is just a very (I might go so far as to say insufferably) positive person, who is well able to afford what they're buying.

The sparse Associated Press version of this story doesn't give many facts to go on. There's a bigger version in the Detroit News, here. Assuming it's correct, after the buyer sobered up (as it were), her husband took back the car and the dealer agreed to rip up the contract, on receipt of a doctor's letter confirming the buyer's condition.

Said letter was then delivered. And then the dealer changed its mind, and "redelivered" the car.

If this is accurate, then the dealer is pretty clearly in the wrong, although they were not necessarily in the wrong - legally or ethically - for selling the car in the first place.

Now let's see how long it takes for this case to end up in one of those "Stella Awards" lists.

Gold, stocks, magic beans... what to buy?

Today, the gods of the botnet have favoured me with a bunch of "Randomname check this" e-mails, some of which promote PMHD and some of which are still promoting good old CNPM.

But they don't tell you which one to invest in!

According to the thousands of completely different and independent real human beings who're sending us all the exact same e-mails every day about these piddling pink sheet stocks, both of them are about to receive major acquisition attention.

So you should spend all of your money on both of them!

This is terrible! I'm so confused!

Meanwhile, the multi-sourced "GOLD investments in Africa", "Real invest in real resource", "African GOLD Investment" spams keep rolling in.

I am indebted to a commenter on my last post for this image from the internationally respected Land Resource Association LLC's photos page:

Trustworthy miners

That dude on the left looks very trustworthy, but the one on the right is clearly unconvinced that even white men are dumb enough to send any money.

The Land Resource Et Cetera Web site, by the way, is registered in the well known city of Ghana, Switzerland.

Here we go again

Today's stock-spam, which may well be more from SpamThru, is all promoting Cana Petroleum (CNPM).

As usual, the spam comes from randomname@randomdomain, but the subject line for every single one of 'em is now "It's [name] :)".

Thus far, I have received these messages from "Alberto", "Bernadette", "Bradly", "Donnie", "Elbert", "Erich", "Erin", "Floyd", "Fred", "Freddie", "Isidro", "Kent", "Lesley", "Lester", "Marty", "Maryanne", "Natasha", "Patrica", "Rita", "Santos", "Tom" and "Wilmer". They're still coming in as I write this.

(I wonder what name list they're using?)

As I've mentioned before, scams like this only work if your marks receive only one message. If they get dozens of similar but different ones, they're likely to think it's just a little fishy.

I suspect this may be happening because SpamThru (or whatever other system is sending this) is unable to coordinate its behaviour enough to make sure that only one zombie sends a given message to a given address.

Dueling spam-germs

The stock spam I mentioned here and here comes, it turns out, from a botnet created by the rather interesting "SpamThru" trojan, which is equipped with a stolen chunk of antivirus code that's meant to get rid of competing malware on the victims' computers.

So different pieces of malware are now fighting over computers. I think this isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's possible that we'll end up with waves of well-engineered malware sweeping over the world's unsecured computers doing Bad Thing A one week and Bad Thing B the next, of course; the only solution is proper security from the top down, but you can forget about Microsoft making that happen in the Wintel world at any point in the near future.

But it's also possible that whatever malware manages to compete best in any given week will be less harmful - to the unsecured computer, and to the rest of the world - than whatever it replaces.

Since malware writers are usually crappy programmers, it is eminently possible that we'll see a significant amount of malware that successfully kills previous infestations, but then does nothing much at all.