Friday, August 29, 2008

Scams as Far as the Eye Can See

As a freelance writer you may or may not know that it is up to me to drum up my own business. Consequently I send in well over a dozen job applications each week along with my responsbilities writing for my current employers. Unfortunately there is not much in the way of a regulatory board or group for most of these jobs. Typically they are small contract jobs for start-up businesses or subcontracted work on the behalf of a web developer to provide content and filler for new websites.

It's rare to actually have a legal contract drawn up and payment is typically through an intermediary such as Paypal.

As a result of this system's informality there are many ways for a scam artist or unscrupulous businessperson to take advantage of a writer. I would say that at least half of the applications which I send in are openings for scams. Many of them are ingenious, some of them are downright hilarious because of the convoluted backstories some of these people expect me, the writer, to swallow.

I've often thought that someone who has the technological know how as well as the ingenuity and drive to put together a completely autonomous mailer program that makes the fake job postings, sends personalized responses to applications, and then steals the writer's work or money has too much time on their hands. Someone capable of doing all that is easily qualified for a high-level IT job that would provide significantly greater dividends than what they would get through scamming people. Plus there's the peace of mind you get when you've not done anything likely to warrant armed police busting down your door and throwing you into a cage with murderers and rapists.

Suffice to say, I've been burned my share of times too. So I've decided to post some of the more ingenious, or at least more entertaining, scams that I come across in my work in the hopes that you won't be taken in by this sort of thing.

My first story is the only scam which successfully got me. Thankfully no money was stolen, but I was tricked into doing roughly $400 dollars worth of work for free.

I applied to work for a website which hosted both phone and online psychic hotline service. It was called, though that name is now defunct. They were interested in developing a database of articles on various new age and supernatural topics. I was one of roughly 20 people who were hired. We were all contacted by an intermediary by the name of Amy.

She outlined the format that would be required for the articles, we would be paid $10 for each article as well as credit for the work. I went to work and submitted somewhere in the area of 40 articles on various topics. I was told the check was in the mail after I'd submitted 30 my first week. After finishing the other 10 a week later I asked them about payment as my check had not arrived. Amy said she would get back to me... She never did.

No one at Psychicrx was available to speak with me, though my articles had been posted by their employees. After about three weeks of getting no where I received an email from one of the other writers. That writer noticed that the introductory emails Amy sent to each of us used a mass mailer which listed all our names and email addresses. The writer then used that to contact all of us as we were not in communication at that point, we didn't know each other or realize that we were all being cheated.

At that point we pooled our resources. One person managed to find the address and phone number of the Psychicrx offices, Miami of course, scam capital of the world. Another contacted the head manager of the company. Her first question was how had we gotten that phone number. That should've been a strong warning right there. She said that Amy was no longer working for the company and had left abruptly over a month ago, all our emails to her went to a derelict address. The manager promised she would see about getting us paid and asked for 2 days to bring it to her boss's attention.

After two days time the company was called again, a new person answered the phone, saying that the previous manager had resigned the previous day.

This went on for the course of another week, each person resigning having a more grand title until they told us the CEO of Psychicrx had resigned. At that point we were looking into bringing a class action suit against them. When threatened with this we received an irate email saying that because we had behaved irrationally and harassed their offices, they were withholding payment. When we reminded them of their contractual obligation to pay us, they simply pulled down the online forum where our articles had been posted. The only problem was that our contracts stated that we were due payment for every article accepted by psychicrx or it's appointed representative regardless of what they did with them.

Psychicrx tried too little and too late to say that they did not accept the articles, but public records showed that this Amy character was in their employ. All of us had copies of our email correspondance with her to back that up as well. Technically she was the Psychicrx representative.

It was at that point that psychicrx disappeared entirely. Their website was pulled down, for "maintenance", and has been down for the last 4 months. The office in Miami they used is now disserted. It turns out the name of the person who rented out the office as well as paid all the utility bills was fake, as was their contact information.

You may be wondering how we were able to pursue this so exhaustively if we were scattered across the country. It turns out that one of the writers was the sister of the District Attorney for South Florida, who chose to pursue psychicrx to make an example of all the scam companies that people Miami. In this we were very lucky, without such a one in a million occurrence we would all still be waiting for our payments, mad as hell, and completely helpless.

You may think that this was a victory on our parts. But not really. The scam artists got away. They will simply procure another office somewhere using false information and put together another moneymaking site. They all still have copies of our work and will post them as their own property when they can, and will simply start the process all over again. This time they may be more lucky, the people they scam may not be as tenacious or as well connected.

As a preventative there are a few things you can do to protect yourself. First you can copyright all your work prior to submission to a new employer. It may take a little extra time, but for a prospectively lucrative commission, it's worth it.

Second you can obtain multiple contacts from your employer; phone number, physical address, email, cell phone, fax, etc. The more ways you are able to contact your employer, the more difficult it is for a dishonest employer to break off contact or try to get away. Make sure that contact information is legitimate as well by using it. Fax him one thing, email him another, call him up with a question and send a letter by snail mail. It will give the employer the message that he can't ignore or get away from you. If it's a scam your employer is likely to panic and cancel the deal before you invest too much time and effort.

That's all for today. I hope to have more in the way of scams to look out for soon.

Monday, August 25, 2008

How to Go Turkey Hunting Without a Weapon

As you may or may not know, I am a freelance writer. I have been lucky enough to find semi-permanent work with an organization that posts informative and instructive articles on various Internet compendiums. I would rather not mention the name of this organization as they can be vindictive.

In any case I take on work and am paid a flat rate based on how many articles they will accept from me. I consider myself lucky to get about 20 accepted a week. The rate at which their editors accept my work for publishing is severely hindering my earning potential as I am quite capable of writing in excess of 40 full length articles each week.

Occasionally they reject an article I write for one arbitrary reason or other. It seems to depend on which of their editors my work is given to. As one can imagine it is infuriating. Essentially the editor is taking money from my pocket because they feel like it. Also the time which I spent writing the article could've been better spent. When I appeal their decision I receive some snotty reply because the power-mad little twerp is enjoying the fact that they are physically thousands of miles distant from me and have the power of deciding whether or not I get paid.

That is why I would be willing to provide funds to any organization which can develop a monitor including a small wormhole device. When this device is engaged, a small portal is created between two computers, allowing me to horrendously beat the little SOB from across the country. I guarantee that Internet flame wars, scams, and general hostility would drop pretty quick with a self regulating system like that. The sense of anonymity that the Internet creates seems to bring out the worst in people, thinking they can act with impunity.

In any case, my train of thought seems to have derailed. What I meant to do was submit the article that was most recently rejected, both to get your opinion on whether you think it's rejection was valid, as well as to try to get some return on my investment of time and effort.

Turkey hunting is a common sport amongst many Americans. They can be hunted for food; wild turkey tastes different than farm raised turkey. They can be hunted for trophies. Traditionally one goes to a likely looking spot in the wilds during hunting season and waits in hiding for a turkey to appear. When the moment is right the hunter will shoot the turkey with a rifle, shotgun, pistol, or bow. There is actually an easier and less violent way to hunt turkey which allows you to claim multiple birds at once without the use of a weapon. In doing this you avoid the possibility of ruining the bird with your gun, making the turkey ineligible to be made into a trophy. Here is a guide on how to hunt a turkey without a weapon. I realize that many people think this is just a myth. But I have several friends who are avid hunters, who have assured me that this is really works. You can find corroboration online if you look hard enough. It's also funny as hell to watch.

Things You’ll Need:
Parched Corn and Bird Seed

Weather Forecast


Bird Blind and Hunting Grounds

Rain Proof Bad Weather Clothing

Hunting A Turkey
Step 1:
Use the weather forecast to find a day where heavy rainstorms are strongly predicted for the area where you intend to hunt.

Step 2:
Go out the hunting ground the day before the rainstorm is predicted.

Step 3:
Look for open ground a few yards from decent tree cover and within sight of a good hiding spot or animal blind in a nearby tree. You want rain to be able to fall unrestricted on the chosen ground, but for it to be nearby trees which turkeys would normally use as cover. The idea is to lure them out from under cover into the open ground.

Step 4:
Seed this area with a couple of pounds of parched corn kernels and bird seed.

Step 5:
Go home and periodically check the weather forecast. When rain is shown to be over your hunting ground, get dressed in your bad weather gear to stay dry.

Step 6:
Return to the hunting ground and take up position in your hiding spot. Make sure to bring your camera so you have bragging rights for later. Some people won’t believe that this was possible.

Step 7:
Wait for the turkeys to arrive. If its hunting season and you’re in decent hunting grounds then the turkeys will be drawn by the promise of food.

Step 8:
Watch the turkeys eat and take pictures of them periodically. You’ll see them pick up a seed or piece of corn with their beaks and tip their head back to help the dry food slide down their throats. After a turkey does this about half a dozen times it will slump and fall over dead. Once all the turkeys that you want have fallen over simply leave your hiding place and collect the birds. Make sure to get as many pictures as you like to show others. In case you’re wondering what happened, they drowned in the rainwater.

Tips & Warnings
A turkey will not look up when it feels raindrops, that myth is false. There is however a grain of truth behind this myth. A turkey will open its mouth and raise its beak directly upward when trying to swallow dry food particles. So if you lay dry corn and seed in an area where turkeys are likely to find it a day or so before a major rainstorm is predicted for the area, any turkey eating in the rain will have its lungs fill with water and drown shortly afterward. Make sure the camera you bring does not have a flash or make noise when it takes a picture. That way you can record what happens without disturbing the turkeys.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Norwegian Hamsters

So I was watching a show on the Discovery Channel about the origin and care of certain household pets. This week’s episode; hamsters. Having owned a hamster in the past I was a little curious to know more about their background. Unwittingly in watching this show I gained a greater degree of insight on an ancient Scandinavian culture which has piqued my interest for years.

Apparently there are more than one breed of hamster. There is the Golden Hamster, which is the one that most people think of when they visualize this animal. I was surprised to find out that it comes from Africa. And that all Golden Hamsters are descended from about a dozen specimens collected from Syria. Obviously I’m no geneticist, but it seems to me that all the thousands and thousands of hamsters throughout the world being descended from just 12 hamsters would necessitate an astonishing degree of inbreeding. Perhaps all their cute behavior such as running in a wheel is the result, and indicates the apex of their intellectual capacity. In that respect I suppose hamsters are quite bright by comparison to some other species. I’ve known full grown adults who couldn’t walk and speak at the same time, let alone run in a stationary wheel.

If you’ve ever owned a hamster you would know what sort of bumbling oblivious animals they are, almost as bad as people. The idea that something as small, harmless, and crunchy as a hamster lived at one time out in the wild boggles my mind. They don’t blend in with their surroundings; they’re not fast, not smart, and not resilient. It’s like a hemophiliac sleeping on a bed of nails, if you’ll forgive the allusion, there’s no question what’s going to happen.

Anyway. There is another species of hamster which originates from Norway. The Norwegian Hamster is much smaller and difficult to care for. Apparently they are much tougher despite their size. It was considerably more difficult to domesticate this species. Based on their appearance I would have to say that it’s likely the early Norse settlers borrowed the Norwegian Hamster’s image when they became known as Vikings.

Just imagine it. You’re a Norwegian farmer, walking back through the fields after a hard day. Suddenly out of nowhere comes a high pitched ululating cry. Hundreds of hamsters come running out over the hill and make a beeline for the farmhouse. They’re chittering and frothing at the mouth in berserk fury, waving tiny battleaxes and swords as they hack a hole in the bottom of your house’s front door.

A few moments later, and after much shrieking and crashing of crockery, the hamsters emerge, their cheeks bulging with looted grain and cheese as they hightail it out of there as fast as they can.

Just as you think the horror is over and you thank the gods that your home and family has been spared, you catch a whiff of the first wisps of smoke. The little buggers set fire to the place on their way out.

Now if you were in this position and had to live with this sort of thing happening on a daily basis, wouldn’t you start to get ideas about a better way of life too?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Wiccan Healing Bath Salts

The concept of magnified reciprocity holds a powerful position within the Wiccan faith. In other faiths one might call it karma or divine justice, but the concept is the same. Casting a spell is like throwing a stone into a pond. It makes disturbances in the surface of the water that ripple outward. Eventually these ripples reach the water’s edge and bounce back. The effect that spell has on others will come back to affect us more powerfully than the one on whom the spell was intended. For this reason any spell which could possibly do harm is considered extremely dangerous and is strongly advised against using. Conversely any spells which can do good are welcome; explaining the preponderance of healing spells in Wicca. One such spell explains how to make healing bath salts that are good for aches, bruises, and sore muscles.

For this undertaking you’ll need a rose quartz crystal, a mortar & pestle, rowan berries, a clean mason jar with lid, a compass, a lighter, a white candle, a pink candle, rose buds (pink for preference), rock salt, and a small pouch.

Prepare a space to work by picking a comfortable spot that you find calming. Clear it of any clutter. You can either work standing at a table or sit cross legged on the floor. Use your compass to face east and light your candles in front of you, but well out of your reach so they won't get in the way as you work. Typically a white candle is representative of the soul and is used when working magic that requires concentration or meditation. A pink candle is representative of healing magics, and should be present when working healing magic of any kind. These need not be present, but they help to focus your energies on the task at hand.

Use your mortar and pestle to grind up a loose handful of rock salt. The exact proportions are determined by how much your mortar can hold, so you'll have to plan ahead. As you grind the salt say: "Creature of earth, I cleanse and purify you for use in my healing rite". Add the rowan berries to the salt and grind them up while saying: "Creature of healing, I cleanse and purify you for use in my healing rite". The moisture from the berries should be soaked up by the salt, so make sure to use half as many berries as salt. Add the rose buds and grind them up while saying: "Creature of love I cleanse and purify you for use in my healing rite".

Set the pestle aside and mix the contents of the mortar with your hands. Focus. Imagine in your mind's eye energy flowing from your heart, down your arms, through your hands, and into the mixture. Repeat three times: "Rowan, rose and salt together, make the aches and pains feel better".

Set the mixture aside and put yourself into a kneeling position facing east. You should have the rose quartz cupped in your hands. Ask your patron deity for the healing mix to do its work. Feel the blessing coming down from the heavens and lodging in the rose quartz. This may take some time to happen; only you will know when it has.

Pour the mixture, which should be fairly dry, into the pouch. Place the pouch into the jar so it stays fresh. Place the crystal on top of the bag and screw the lid down tight. Speak the word "Heal" with strength and emotion as you do so.

Whenever you feel sore or have aches and pains, just run a bath and pour some of the pouch’s contents into the bathwater. Don’t forget to say the following phrase three times when you do this: "Creature of earth creature of water, creature of healing, creature of love, mix together and combine to renew, replenish, and heal".

Friday, August 1, 2008

Wiccan Cold Remedy

Many of the more unorthodox religions have no objection to people who attempt to perform spells and rituals which might be labeled as witchcraft. The fear of the witch in Europe and the American Colonies was great; surely the Salem Witch trials are a fine example of that. Often people who were accused of witchcraft were no more than healers, using herbal remedies, bits of half-remembered ritual, and whatever spells they could work to try to help people. Whether or not these spells actually worked is heatedly debated and has been for the last few centuries.
For the sake of argument let us say that magic is real. Many of these healing charms were collected when the Wiccan religion was developed in 1953. Wicca, though still considered magic and witchcraft in the western world, is a very moral religion. They state that the nature of the universe is one of reciprocity. For that reason it is paramount that one should never use magic to do harm as it will return to the spell caster multiplied. It also means that good works are well rewarded.

One such mutually beneficial spell is the Medicamentum Horrescere Dirimo. It's translated literally as the potion to stop shivers and is a very potent and safe cold remedy.
For this undertaking you will need liquorice root, cinnamon sticks, salt, water, soft brown sugar, a pan, measuring cups, a bottle with a cork, a spoon, a strainer, a stove, and a clock.
Begin by measuring out 3/4 cup of water into a pan and bringing it to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and put in a cinnamon stick, three tablespoons of sugar, and a teaspoon of table salt. Cook the mixture for ten minutes, stirring continuously.

Add the liquorice root to the pan to cook and stir the mixture counterclockwise for ten full minutes. While stirring, repeat the phrase: "Horrescere dirimo et cessare hodie" until the ten minutes are up. Phonetically it's pronounced: "Hor-ech-air-ay dur-ee-moe et says-are-ay hoe-dee-ay". The translation is: "Shivers stop and leave right now". If the remedy is for yourself then make sure to breath deeply from the steam that will rise from the pan. The smell is absolutely heavenly and does wonders to clear the throat and sinuses.

Add another three tablespoons of brown sugar to the pan. The liquorice root has powerful healing properties but can be acidic and therefore bitter. A positive mindset can be important when fighting an illness, so it's best not to disturb that with unpleasant sensations such as bad taste.

Strain the mixture out and pour it into a bottle, but let it cool to room temperature before corking it. As you strain out and pour the mixture, try to keep the person for whom the potion is meant at the forefront of your mind. Imagine a nexus of healing energy around the bottle, giving it a comforting glow.

Repeat the phrase: "Horrescere dirimo et cessare hodie" once before corking the bottle and once before taking each dose. take one teaspoonful in the morning and another before bed, repeating the phrase before putting the spoon in your mouth each time. The cold will disappear within three days.