Tag Archives: confidence trick

I was perhaps impolite to a man who offered me £50 per week for advice

I have mostly been in bed since Friday with a bad cough.

Even worse than my normal one.

Perhaps I have started hallucinating.

I had a phone call from a very nice man today. He was calling from 07843-670273.

That is a UK mobile cellphone number.

His first words, after a slight pause, were: “Are you (after another slight pause) Mr Fleming?”

“I might be,” I said. “Who are you?” My voice was croaking a little.

He told me his name and the financial services company he was calling from. The company’s name was a series of letters. He said he was doing research.

I congratulated him on having a job is this very difficult financial climate.

He asked me if I had ever made online financial investments.

I said I had done, “many, many times – mostly in Madagascar.”

He told me how very good it was to hear that.

“So you know how the system works,” he said.

“Oh yes, of course,” I told him. “I give money to you and you take money from me.”

“Oh no,” he replied.

He explained that he was not asking for money. He was offering free advice.

“That is a very bad business model,” I told him. “You should have a word with your bosses. That is a very bad way to do business. Not to ask for payment in return for services. That is terrible. You should ask for money if you give advice.”

He reassured me he was not asking me to pay anything. He repeated this several times. And explained that his company was offering free advice. “Are you interested?” he asked.

“This is a terrible way to run a business,” I repeated.

“Are you interested?” he asked.

“If you pay me,” I told him, “I would be interested in giving you advice which you could pass on to your bosses and it would improve your business model..”

After some to-and-fro, he asked me: “How much would you want?”

“£50 a week for the next three weeks,” I told him.

He said that was OK.

“Just give me your home address,” I told him, “and I will send everything to you by post.”

“You want my address?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“There is no need,” he said. “Give me your telephone number and I will transfer the money to you.”

“But you know my number,” I said, surprised. “You phoned me on it and your number is 07843-670273.”

He said he did not know my number; only my name.

“But how could you phone me?” I asked, “without having my number? You are talking to me on my number. I don’t think I am hallucinating. But maybe I am.”

He insisted he did not know my number but would pay me the £50 per week.

“But, no, you must know my number. I still don’t understand,” I said. “How on earth could you phone my number if you don’t have my number?”

“I like you, Mr Fleming,” he said.

“That is deeply unfortunate,” I told him, “because you are a cunt.”

And I hung up and blocked his number.

Perhaps I was too harsh.

And I lost the chance to earn £50 per week for the next three weeks.

Feel free to contact him – 07843-670273 – if you want to give him any advice.

But remember a minimum charge rate of £50 per week for your services has already been set as standard.

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Advice on how to spot a conman in the movie industry (and elsewhere)

I popped along to Elstree Film Studios for a chat with the indefatigable Jason Cook (not to be confused with the comedian of the same name, though I am sure he is also dynamic).

The Jason Cook I know is a former gangster’s runner turned author and film producer with more energy than the National Grid.

His production company The Way Forward Productions, based at Elstree Studios, has a slate of seven feature films in various stages of preparation. His sales agent says the first picked up quite a bit of interest at the recent Cannes Film Festival. It is The Devil’s Dandruff, based on Jason’s autobiographical novel There’s No Room For Jugglers in My Circus (the first in his autobiographical trilogy of books).

My favourite Jason Cook project, though, is the animated Rats in Space.

It’s a great title and it’s currently looking for finance.

We found we were both equally bemused and amused by the fact that, with potential movie investors, a person’s sartorial impressiveness is often in inverse proportion to their financial ability. People who turn up to meetings unshaven in scruffy shirts and torn jeans often have shedloads of money to burn. People who arrive looking well-heeled in neat Armani suits and spotless shirts are often bullshitting.

Maybe it’s because people with a lot of money don’t need to impress anyone, so don’t care what people think of them.

Whereas conmen and shysters are meticulous in their clothing and manners because they need to impress people for the hustle to work.

Of course, some shabbily-dressed men are just shabbily-dressed men.

I have been told I am living proof of this.

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Filed under Books, Crime, Movies, PR

He’s a great parody of the showbiz agent, a real cartoon character – long may he continue to rip us all off

A while ago, I wrote a blog which answered nine common questions asked by innocent first-time performers at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Answer 6 delved briefly into the murky waters of dodgy agents/managers/promoters who rip off their own acts.

But there are some people who try to rip you off so endearingly that you can’t help but like them.

A few weeks ago, writer Mark Kelly, who used to perform stand-up as Mr Nasty, told me about playing three consecutive nights at one of the late Malcolm Hardee’s comedy clubs. Each night, Malcolm tried to pay Mark less than he agreed by pretending he had forgotten how much he had agreed or pretending they had agreed a different sum and, each night, Mark ‘reprimanded’ him and had to go through hoops to get his money. It was like a game. Malcolm knew Mark knew Malcolm knew Mark knew Malcolm was trying to rip him off. But Malcolm almost felt obliged to play this Jack The Lad figure because it was part of the persona he had intentionally built up over the years. When he died, people joked – actually laughed – about the amount of money he owed to each of them. They enjoyed having been part of his games.

I was reminded of this by an e-mail from Mr Methane late last night: he is still away from home farting around the world. The name of the agent in this message has been changed. Any similarity to any agent with access to libel lawyers is unintentional and purely coincidental.

Mr Methane told me:

“I just bumped into our old friend Lobby Lud, he still talks me up despite not putting a booking my way since about 1994 when I started asking for a decent cut of the fees he was charging. I remember arriving in Baden Baden by limo from Frankfurt airport with Lobby one time to meet a producer and Lobby said, Let me do the talking…

“Before I knew it, I apparently had a house in London and one in Los Angeles; then the producer said we must be tired after our long flight, to which Lobby quickly got the first word in and said yes we were. It turned out he’d charged the producer for two Business Class fares from Los Angeles to Frankfurt although he had flown me bargain bucket from Manchester. He had even tried to get me to pay for a peak hour train from Manchester down to London Heathrow so he could fly me over even cheaper !!!!”

I had much the same shenanigans with Lobby when we were making Jack Dee’s Saturday Night for ITV. I can’t remember the exact details, but it somehow involved clearly non-existent flights from Los Angeles to London. The over-all cost was acceptable so was not queried, but Lobby was shafting his own act rather than us as it was him who was pocketing the conned money, not the act.

We all liked Lobby because he had – and I guess still has – a genuine love of the show business and a love of and fascination for good acts.

As Mr Methane wrote to me:

“A loveable rogue: that’s Lobby. You can’t help but like him even when he’s shafting you big time. He’s such a great parody of the showbiz agent, a real cartoon character full of genuine 100% bullshit.”

Long may he thrive. And he has some great showbiz stories. It’s almost worth getting ripped off just to meet him.

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The World Trade Center terrorist attack and the 9/11 compensation scam

Yesterday, I was talking to someone about urban myths surrounding the Al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, particularly the story that, under the rubble of the second tower to fall, a crushed fire engine was found containing hundreds of neatly-stacked Gap or Structure brand jeans apparently looted from a shop in the first tower to fall. There is an interesting site debunking 9/11 myths, which does not include that story.

But there is another story not on that site which I understand is true…

I am told there was extensive building work going on at the Twin Towers before the attack and this involved some Irish-origined workers.

As soon as possible after the attack happened, some of the workers flew to Ireland. Their wives claimed they were missing and waited around until they eventually got compensation for their husbands’ deaths. According to Wikipedia (never necessarily accurate) the average individual payout to 9/11 relatives was $1.8 million. After receiving the money, the wives rejoined their husbands in Ireland. Some, I’m told, even stayed in the US where their ‘dead’ husbands rejoined them after a respectable time had elapsed.

If true (and I understand it is), as scams go, this was a very clever one and required quick thinking at the time.

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The manic-depressive comedy act and the fantastic female astronaut phenomenon

Tonight I’m off to see the last of American comic Lewis Schaffer‘s twice-weekly shows Free Until Famous at the Source Below in Soho. The shows should resume in January. As far as my extensive experience goes, “a rollercoaster ride of emotions” is pretty much what Lewis guarantees.

He tells me a psychiatrist friend told him his shows are an exact recreation of a bi-polar, manic-depressive incident. Bloody right. Rollercoasters. Comedy rollercoasters. That’s what they are. He has an extraordinary and mesmerising talent for plucking defeat from the jaws of victory just as often as vice versa. He has perhaps four or five hours of good, solid, funny material and you can never be certain which parts and which configuration will surface in any particular one-hour show… and then you throw into this volatile mix his occasional sudden bouts of self-doubt (which he then analyses as part of the act) and his low boredom threshold… plus he will career off-course if there is any distraction or any good audience interaction. He is a Wikipedia of knowledge. Throw him an audience member from some obscure village in Guatemala and the odds are he will know some bizarre and fascinating fact about it.

“Unpredictable” does not quite do him justice. And then there are the audiences he attracts.

A few weeks ago, he asked an American girl in the audience what she did for a living and it turned out she was USAF Sargent Katie Sparks, a former astronaut on the Mir Space Station. She had spent twelve days up there in space in 2006. Lewis got her up on stage and he and the audience asked her questions about what she’d done and how she’d felt and she answered with fascinating details.

Except that, after the show, Lewis checked out her 2006 trip to Mir and discovered that not only did the Mir space station burn up in 2001 – five years before she claimed to have been in it – but he could find no reference to any female astronaut called Katie Sparks. She had made the whole thing up – whether as an intentional con trick for unknown reasons or as a fantasist’s dream, he could not figure out. There is a photo of “Katie Sparks” on Lewis’ Facebook page.

Lewis won the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award at the 2009 Edinburgh Fringe for pulling a publicity stunt so outrageous that the Edinburgh Comedy Awards (showing a remarkable lack of any sense of humour) threatened to take him to court. Could he have been out-stunted and out-witted this time?

He (and I) would be interested to know who “Katie Sparks” is and how and why she managed to persuade Lewis and an entire audience that she was a female astronaut. Born-and-bred New Yorker Lewis is even beginning to doubt that she was American.

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