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The Scams, Scandals, Hoaxes, Frauds and Pranks of August

All a bemused observer can say is, 'Whew!'

Vol. 4, Issue No. 48 | August 26, 2008 By Denny Hatch
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Sour Grapes
The news that Wine Spectator magazine was scammed into giving an Award of Excellence to a non-existent restaurant has been greeted with guffaws by schadenfreude fans and with fury by the magazine's editor.
--Nick Fox, Diner's Journal, The New York Times, August 21, 2008

I just finished a splendid book, "The Forger's Spell" by Edward Dolnick, about how a mediocre painter named Han Van Meegeren painted a series of "Vermeers" in the 1930s and 1940s and conned the European art establishment into believing they were real. One of his forgeries was the crown jewel in the collection of the world's greatest art thief, Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering. It was a delicious hoax.

When I put the book down and started looking for news stories to pin this column to, I found August was an extraordinary month for hoaxes, fakes, scams, scandals and pranks. Let's start with Wine Spectator.

Thomas Matthews, executive editor of Wine Spectator, is pissed. For starters:

Wine Spectator learned yesterday that, for the first time in the 27-year history of our Restaurant Awards program, a fictitious restaurant has entered its wine list for judging. To orchestrate his publicity-seeking scam, Robin Goldstein created a fictitious restaurant in Milan, Italy, called Osteria L'Intrepido, and then submitted a menu and wine list to Wine Spectator's Restaurant Awards as a new entry in 2008. The wine list earned an Award of Excellence, the most basic of our three award levels. Goldstein revealed his elaborate hoax at a meeting in Oregon last week. He is now crowing about the fraud on his own Web site. The story has been picked up in the blogosphere, and now Wine Spectator would like to set forth the actual facts of the matter.

"Facts of the matter?"

Mr. Matthews, you were bamboozled. Hornswoggled. Thimblerigged. Flimflammed. Your awards program is a deeply flawed business model.


August 2008 is Miscreant Month!
A Personal Digression

Below are hyperlinks to the Web sites of the irate editor of Wine Spectator and that of Robin Goldstein, the perpetrator of what was indignantly described as a "publicity-seeking scam" and a "fraud." You'll love it!

Wine is not my thing. If I find myself in the company of effete, elitist oenophiles, I immediately head to the bar for another Grey Goose on the rocks.

My irreverent friend Mike invited a wine expert to dinner and served a trendy and expensive French Burgundy from a bottle that he opened in the kitchen, so the wine could "breathe." With a flourish, Mike showed the bottle and label and poured a splash into a balloon glass for his friend to sample. The wine expert swirled it, sniffed it and sipped it, and went into orbit over the "bouquet," "nose" and "finish." Throughout dinner, the compliments showered down on Mike for his elegant selection of wine.

Takeaway Points to Consider

* A legion of miscreants around the world would love to steal your ID, your ideas, your customers, your business, your family members (for ransom) and/or make you look like a fool.

* How secure is your business model? Could a prankster make you look the fool by doing something similar to what Robin Goldstein did to Wine Spectator?

* How ethical is your business model? The pharmaceutical companies are constantly getting caught for questionable practices.

* Is it possible for hackers to get into your computer system and send out forged e-mails and text messages in your name?

* How secure are your data? Can hackers get into your system and swipe customer info, e-mails and/or corporate secrets?

* It is my personal opinion that if customer data are lost or stolen, the result should be automatic jail time for the CEO. Not IT. Not VP operations. Not the schlub that hit the wrong key. The CEO should be fired and go into the slammer. The buck stops there.

* Do you have potentially embarrassing e-mails on your computer? Remember, e-mails can be forever, and if released over the Internet, can be seen by billions worldwide.

* When traveling in a dictatorship such as China or Russia, it's probably not the best idea to stage a protest--or even talk about it.

* How good is your company's screening process when it comes to hiring? Do you scrupulously check resumes and references? Could a "Clark Rockefeller"--someone with a questionable past and a string of aliases--wind up in a position where data, money or personnel are compromised?

Web Sites Related to Today's Edition

Wine Spectator Award to a Non-Existent Restaurant

"Data Breaches Have Surpassed Level for All of '07, Report Finds"

"Book claims White House ordered faked letter to tie Saddam and 9/11"

John Edwards: The Picture of a Scandal: New developments in the story that cannot be reported.

"Some Beijing Olympic Fireworks Faked."

"China Had 'Cute' Girl Mime Opening Ceremony After Singer Banned For Crooked Teeth"

"Scandal of the Ages: Documents Reveal Underage Chinese Gymnast"

"Bottle Cap Drive for Cancer a Hoax"

"7-year-old boy admits making hoax call to Coast Guard"

"Defense: Prosecutors bending law for MySpace hoax"

"Researcher: Bigfoot just a rubber gorilla suit"

"Journal takes on drugmaker 'seeding trials'"

Drug seeding, all about

"Too Old and Frail to Re-educate? Not in China"--Aged Protesters

"Text hoaxes plague Obama VP plan"

"Office of the Comptroller of the Currency Sides With Banks Against Consumers on Credit Card Reform Proposal"

Larry Mendte Pleads Guilty To Hacking Into Lane's E-Mail

"Ready-Made Rockefeller"



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