Scams, cults, schemes, & frauds

A reclist of good (and free!) listens, in a genre I’ve been diving into pretty hard lately.

Some are ongoing series; others have ended (officially or unofficially), but their back catalogs are still worth checking out.

MLMs/Pyramid Schemes

  • The Dream (podcast): Season-long deep dive into the social and legislative history of MLMs. Then a follow-up on the “wellness” industry. Great background knowledge to have for some of the other recs.
  • Life After MLM (podcast): In-depth, sympathetic, long conversations with survivors of pyramid schemes, from the obscure to the famous. The stories are personal and unique! The underlying grift is always exactly the same.
  • Sounds Like MLM But OK (podcast/Youtube): A tour of pyramid schemes. Not so much deep-diving here, it’s more about the rubbernecking.
  • Multi Level Mondays (YouTube series): Wide-ranging survey of MLMs. You probably knew about the makeup/clothing/vitamin ones, but did you know they’ve sold insurance, chocolate, ants, CBD, and dirt? (Literally! Dirt.)

Finance & Cryptocurrency Scams

  • Coffeezilla (Youtube channel): Finance scams! With a focus on crypto scams, especially recently. Videos are mostly short, all energetic, and really accessible for those of us without business degrees.
  • Crypto Critics’ Corner (podcast) Crypto scams, plus analysis of shady behavior that suggests “Scam Reveal on the horizon, it’s gonna be all over your timeline any day now, get the popcorn ready.” Always a fascinating listen. Gets a lot more technical/into-the-financial-weeds, so if you’re like me and don’t have much background in that already: binge Coffeezilla for the accessible explanations first.
  • Exit Scam (podcast): Or binge this first! Season-long deep dive into a career fraudster, how he pivoted from traditional Ponzi schemes to running a crypto exchange, and how it all came crashing down. Walks you through lots of backstory really well.

Other Tech & Business Scams

  • KickScammers (Youtube series): Stories of crowdfunding campaigns that were misrepresenting their products. Or ran off with the money. Or, in one memorable case…backers got the rewards, only to find out the device exploded. Can reach a bit too hard to zazz a story up (e.g. an ominous “The rewards…were never delivered” on a KS that didn’t fund, i.e. the creator wasn’t paid to deliver any rewards in the first place) — but there’s enough genuine drama, it’s fun even thru the spin.
  • The Great Fail (podcast): Officially tells the stories of failed businesses, but a ton of them were scams from the start (think Theranos, Juicero), or crashed because they *got* scammed (think Toys’R’Us).
  • Easy Prey (podcast): Less “history of individual scam incidents,” more “outlines of different scam genres, and how to stop/avoid them.” Plus interviews with people in security fields. Sometimes experts! Usually interesting. (Had a personal interview with John McAfee not long before his death, for anyone who wondered “okay, these stories sound unhinged, but what’s he like firsthand?”)

Romance & Interpersonal Scams

  • The Perfect Scam (podcast): 1-2-part overviews of different scam types, guest interviews with specific survivors. Focused on the ones most likely to target older people – romance scams, tech support scams, grandparent scams. The co-host of the early seasons is the Catch Me If You Can guy, so you also get regular tidbits about his IRL scamming history — up to you whether you think they’re more or less interesting than the main topic of each episode.
  • Fool Me Twice (podcast): Host’s mother gets romance-scammed, host does a season-long breakdown of how it went down. Then returns for a breakdown of a diamond scam (more specific than “the whole diamond industry”) (but there’s some of that too).
  • Something Was Wrong (podcast): Host’s friend gets elaborately scammed, host does a season of interviews with friends/family to unpick all the lies, one listener goes “whoa that happened to me too,” host sets out to interview *their* friends/family…It must be such a relief, when someone tells a multi-year web of lies to a big group of people, when a journalist-minded person comes in with fresh eyes and the goal to systematically unravel it all. (And it’s a good listen, too, since it’s 9 seasons and counting.)
  • Scientology: Fair Game (podcast): More long conversations, this time about the same cult. Abusive, fraudulent, always worse than you think. Hosted by two survivors, great at expositing all the weirdest details for those of us from “the real world.” (The podcast is a follow-up to their documentary TV show on the same topic — it’s not free, but if you have a streaming service that carries it, you might want to watch that first.)
Comedians Tell Their Friends About Scams Of All Kinds
  • Lie, Cheat & Steal (podcast): Two comedian friends take turns telling each other about famous liars, frauds, thieves, and cons. Some historical, some ongoing, all entertaining. With bonus episodes on their Patreon!
  • Scamtime (podcast): Two comedian friends take turns telling each other about famous scams. Funny, interesting, and they’re Canadian, which makes everything 25% more charming.
  • Scam Goddess (podcast): Comedian host tells her comedian friend guests about history-making frauds, ongoing cons, and reader write-ins about their non-headlining adventures in low-key scamming.
…got a favorite that isn’t listed here? Please tell me about it, I’m always looking for more.

Erin (Re)Watches: Boston Legal, Rebuild of Evangelion, the bluescreen of a misbehaving laptop

Started rewatching Boston Legal for my comics-making background TV, and all the B-roll of streets and buildings is making me really nostalgic for Boston.

…but definitely *not* nostalgic for the 2000’s. The level of Cultural Discourse we were wading through, holy cats.

One standout: mall Santa gets fired when a kid says “Santa please make me normal, I like wearing girl clothes,” and Santa says “nothing wrong with that, so do I.”

And the baseline defense is “look, it’s not like he would tell EVERY kid he crossdresses! This was a special case!”

Instead of “oh ffs why *not* tell everyone? These are regular street clothes. Women wear them all the time. Every child in this boy’s class should be told that, hey, some men wear them too — maybe even Santa! — and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

After almost a whole month of good behavior — and precisely 3 days after the original service contract expired — New Computer did the thing again on Saturday.

And then yesterday, I woke up to find it back on its old “doing the thing on Thursdays” schedule.

(Checked the update history — as I expected, there isn’t anything new corresponding to either restart.)

Is this just going to be a Technically Harmless But Still A Huge Nuisance feature of New Computer for the rest of its operational life? Signs point to “ughhhh.”

After rewatching the first three Rebuild of Evangelion movies, I finally got to the fourth one today.

The animation is stunning. Not just the wild mecha battles, but the startlingly natural detail in tiny motions like “Shinji throws his SDAT player and it goes skittering across the ground”. And the backgrounds — they have this low-key showing-off trick where they’ll come up with a lushly detailed set, then draw it at a dozen different long-shot angles, so they have to do a new full painting every time.

Also, we spend like 40 minutes in an idyllic little farm town that’s been cultivated and defended against the post-Impact wasteland, where they apparently got Studio Ghibli to collaborate. It absolutely paid off.

How much can I talk about the plot at this point? I haven’t run into a single unmarked spoiler in the wild…which suggests that either the early viewers are being extra-conscientious, or that most people haven’t gone to the effort to see it yet.

In general:

It’s wild and twisty, but, you know, in on-brand-for-Eva ways. There’s some setup that doesn’t pay off, some payoffs that weren’t really set up, but each chunk ranges from “competent” to “deeply satisfying.”

There were characters who got to be so happy that you figured they definitely wouldn’t make it through an Eva film alive (did I mention there are people living in a Ghibli village??). A surprising amount of them pull it off anyway. Sometimes the TV-series lore gets punted off into space. Other times, they go so hard with the callbacks, the original titles are literally flashing on screen.

I will spoil this: the penguins are okay. This movie knows which questions are really essential to answer, and it delivers.

Catching up (Hellsing, Black Butler, Magia Record)

Celebrated Free Comic Book Day by…dropping a huge pile of cash on the deluxe hardcover Hellsing omnibus.

They’re so big! So crisp! So hefty! The third one has color art plates in the back! Nothing a dedicated fan hasn’t seen before (and I kinda wish they’d done something fancier for the covers), but still, very classy.

Bookshelf with Hellsing volumes

And, plot twist: the local comic shop had a raffle that night, and the more you spent the more entries you got. So I walked away with 2 free books after all. (Got my tickets called twice in a row, took the only 2 titles on the table I was interested in, figured that was my cue to call it a night.)

Black Butler promo art

Library traffic has been slow for a bit, so I took the opportunity to raid the manga shelves and catch up on Black Butler.

And wow, what a great showcase of “come up with a core premise/main cast, use it as the basis to write literally whatever you feel like.” This arc: cooking contest comedy. Next: zombie horror at sea! Next: castle with a fairytale curse. Next: school sports drama!

…that wasn’t exactly the order they came in, but you get the picture.

And it definitely went directly from “this arc plot is an excuse to draw progressive stages of injury from exposure to chemical weapons” to “this arc plot is an excuse to draw multiple full-page spreads of 4-bishounen boy bands.”

Followed in turn by “hmm, it’s been too long since I drew a small cute boy getting tormented…what if I did a whole volume about two small cute boys getting tormented.”

This creator is out here living her best art life and I’m loving it.

I’m also keeping up with the new season of Magia Record — or rather, it gets early releases on premium sites and I’m waiting for the free viewing on Crunchyroll, so I’m keeping a week behind with the new season of Magia Record.

As usual, there’s a heap of plot and too many characters and I’m definitely not tracking it all. If you liked the original series for the tight writing and flawless pacing, this is skippable.

But the animation is gorgeous, it’s fun to get more appearances from our long-missed Main Girls (even knowing this is an early timeline), and I can enjoy the emotional beats in the moment while reading recaps later on to figure out “ohhh, that’s who was doing what to who because why.”

MagiReco Homura-Madoka-Sayaka battle screencap

*meets an f/f/f triad* so which of you has the strategic power, which of you has the overwhelming firepower, and which of you has the NYOOM

Aaaaand spoke too soon

Made a post last night about how I think the computer is okay, came home from work this afternoon to find it did this again. I know, I know, I jinxed it.

Dell Diagnostics hardware scan

No issues found! You didn’t find any issues the last four times, either! Why do you keep doing this.

Gaaaah. Should I even try to do a full reinstall? Contact Dell customer service and sit through however many hours of troubleshooting they’d want to do? Or just give up and live like this?

…and, in a completely unrelated bonus vent:

Chris Chan, long-time Webcomic Person and generally infamous Internet Personality, has been trending on Twitter for a bit. For entirely horrible reasons. If you don’t want to read about elder abuse and mental illness, don’t go digging.

But given that she has like a 20-year history of being egged/goaded/manipulated by trolls into doing awful things for their entertainment…my first thought on hearing bad news about her is “wonder which sociopath talked her into thinking this was ok.”

(For anyone who wants receipts, there’s a comprehensive documentary series on YouTube that goes through the trolling in detail. And by “comprehensive” I mean “59 parts so far, each about 40 minutes long, and it’s only caught up through 2017.” The creator just put it on hiatus, because they don’t want to seem like they’re taking advantage of a terrible situation for hits — which is a principled move, good for them — but here I am linking to the back catalog anyway.)

Seriously, in a better healthcare system Chris would’ve been taken into some kind of professional care at least a decade ago, for her own safety. Let alone anyone else’s.

And I hate how sure I am that the instigators are never gonna see any consequences ever.

Erin Watches the egg disaster

It is verrrry rare these days that I start watching an anime while the season is still airing, but I did it with Wonder Egg Priority.

The internet was saying s many good things after the first few episodes! It sounded so complicated, and so interesting, that I wanted to keep up with the discussion in realtime! Didn’t want to put off the episodes for later, and risk being spoiled for who-knows-how-much by the time I got to them.

…without spoiling anything too specific — whoo boy, this show went so downhill so badly.

And now I’m just gonna link all three Anime Slushie recaps, because they do such a satisfyingly thorough job of picking it apart.

Including highlights for all the times when it was like “they almost have something here, they’re brushing up against what could be a really profound and meaningful commentary, here’s what we could’ve had in a better show that was going there on purpose.”

(I know they’re long, but if you’ve got time to listen to the whole set, it’s worth it.)

(…definitely a better use of your time than actually watching Wonder Egg.)