Skeptic News: Cons, Cults and Crypto

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


Cons, Cults and Crypto

Last week was a busy one. On Monday I visited parliament for a church service called The Power of One, along with another couple of skeptics. The event was organised by a group called Jesus for NZ (who formed back in 2017 when Jesus was taken out of the parliamentary prayer), hosted by Alfred Ngaro and facilitated by Simon Bridges. There was a lot of talk about Jesus re-taking the nation until everyone in this country is a believer, and restoring NZ to its “former glory”. Personally I’m much happier with NZ being a rational, secular democracy than a theocracy, but it turns out that not everyone wants a fair society and equality for all.

On Wednesday morning I took a detour on the way to work via the High Court, where Sue Grey was inside arguing that the government’s vaccine rollout is illegal. The building was packed! I spotted some of the conspiracy usual suspects, including Tiamara Williams in the foyer and Billy TK arguing with some security guards outside. It turned out that the guards had ejected Billy from the building because he was filming inside where it was prohibited. In the end he started one of his “liveys”, using his mobile phone to live stream his anger and indignation to Facebook. I took the opportunity to film him doing this, which felt very meta!

Finally, on Thursday evening a few of us visited a talk on cancer treatment, given by someone who runs a local holistic “clinic”. There was a lot of the same tired old nonsense about disease being dis-ease, cancer thriving in an acidic body and everything modern (including power points, wifi and microwaves) causing cancer. And then there was some new stuff, like that emotions are the root cause of all cancers, and that emotion is really e-motion: “energy-in-motion”. After the event we retired to the pub and submitted ASA complaints about the unproven medical claims we found on the clinic’s website. It's always nice to be able to do something constructive about the nonsense we see around us.

Mark Honeychurch

EvoRich will make you Poorer

A week ago I opened the LinkedIn app on my phone, and noticed a comment on a post that was made by someone in NZ who was an “EvoRich Consultant”. His profile didn’t seem to match what I’d expect from a corporate consultant, so I quickly searched Google for EvoRich to see what it was all about - with the suspicion that it might be some kind of Multi Level Marketing scheme.

I was not disappointed - it turns out that EvoRich is not just an MLM, it’s a CryptoCurrency MLM - or as they call it, MLCI (Multi Level Crowd Investing). What came up pretty quickly in my search was an alert from the FMA (Financial Markets Authority) which said:

“The FMA recommends exercising caution before dealing with Evorich... We believe Evorich [has] the hallmarks of a scam.”

The next search result was an article from the Otago Daily Times telling of a recent push to get people in New Zealand to sign up for the EvoRich scheme. Apparently some who have put their money in the scheme in NZ are busy running events to help sign up new victims, with hollow promises of big profits.

Next I found myself on YouTube, watching videos from the EvoRich 2021 Summit, where Kiwis and Aussies stood on an empty stage in what seemed to be an empty room in Queensland, telling a video camera about why they should invest in EvoRich, and why it’s going to be the next big thing in CryptoCurrencies. And they kept on thanking the same person, venerating him in a way that felt a lot like how cult leaders are treated - Andrey Khovratov. It turns out that Andrey has quite a history, having previously run Skyway, and then NEEW (New Economic Evolution of the World), and now EvoRich. And searching for each of these companies brings up warning after warning

This whole EvoRich scheme is sadly familiar, and looks almost like a carbon copy of the OneCoin cryptocurrency the BBC did a great job of exposing as a scam in their podcast series called The Missing Crypto Queen. Like OneCoin, EvoRich involves dodgy Russian “businessmen”, multi level marketing, the promise of a cryptocurrency with absolutely no evidence that it actually exists, slick looking websites that show you your “investment” going up in value, and lots of training on how to bring your friends in to invest in the scheme. However I have a strong suspicion that, even though it’s very easy to buy into EvoRich, it’ll be impossible for people to take their money out again. You might think that you’re becoming rich, as you see your number of WCRUs (crypto coins) going up, but like OneCoin I’m guessing that increase is just a piece of code that slowly increases a number in a database.

While trawling through EvoRich videos on YouTube, I was watching a video on how to use the website to manage your crypto wallet, and the presenter said something that piqued my interest. She said that the URLs at the top of her screen, as she was entering data on the EvoRich backoffice website, shouldn’t be used by end users, as it was just for demo purposes. Well, you can’t tell a skeptic not to open the URL and expect them to listen to you! So I typed in a couple of different URLs from the video to my browser, and the second one took me to the demo site’s API - an API is part of a website where software can ask a server for data. Although the site needed credentials to login, I could see that it was written in Yii - a popular web framework written in the PHP language for building websites and APIs. And the developers of the site had left debug mode on, which meant that all requests to the site were being logged, and there was a convenient link to the logs. When I clicked the link, it showed me all the traffic that the API had received over the last few months. It wasn’t much, but there were a few POST requests to the /login page - and as a web developer it was obvious to me that these were login attempts. Those attempts appear to have been made by EvoRich “consultants” who accidentally tried to use the demo site to login, rather than the live site. In the logs I was able to see people’s cleartext usernames and passwords - not an admin account, but the login credentials of different people from around the world who have been conned by this company.

I’ve let the company know that they have a security issue, through their email address of [email protected], so that they can fix it. But the company is owned by a Russian con man, and is actively taking money from thousands of desperate people, so I don’t think they’ll really care, and I don’t expect to hear back from them any time soon.

Buy your own Get Out of Jail Free card for only $50

The website of an organisation called the Maori Ranger Security Division is currently selling ID cards that they claim can help you avoid being arrested by police, protect you from Child Services, make you exempt from fisheries quotas, and may even let you travel without a passport - and all for the low, low price of $50.

Despite the name, this group seems to have no official standing. They’re not connected to the Māori Wardens, and are not registered as a company or society in NZ. But maybe that’s the point - their claim is that they do not fall under the jurisdiction of the government of New Zealand, but instead have formed their own jurisdiction.

This appears to be a part of the Free Man of the Land, or Sovereign Citizen, movement, which is a fascinating phenomenon. The movement started in the US, and the general idea is that, though enacting a series of legal maneuvers, you can disconnect yourself from being a citizen of the country you live in - with the benefits of then not being subject to its laws, and not having to pay taxes.

In this case, the Maori Rangers have done most of the “hard work” for you. Their ID cards supposedly contain several pieces of legal wording that together give you freedom from government oppression. These include the initials “C.S.S.C.S.P.S.G.P.” next to an image of the old Flag of the United Tribes, followed by the phrase “Flag of this document contract postal vessel court venue”, the words “Sea Pass”, a claim that the card holder is a Diplomat and a passport photo with the words “Secured Party” under it.

From what I can tell, this is meant to convert you into being a maritime vessel, which helps to distance yourself legally from the country you live in. There are Māori and Pakeha versions of the cards, and at $50 I’m tempted to buy one and see how quickly I get kicked out of somewhere for trying to use it as a valid form of ID.

Apparently the group are currently trying to raise enough money to send 10 people to Hawaii, which will somehow allow them to register all Maori Ranger cards as valid passports.

The Maori Rangers even have a card you can apparently use in place of a valid car registration. It says on it:

ANYTHING ATTACHED directly or INDIRECTLY (e.g. by Post) to this PRIVATE car or any of the contents therein Without prior written consent will be removed, by force if necessary, and will incur a fee of
$20,000 payable on demand

Obviously this whole thing is bonkers. I hate the idea that someone might buy some card or other piece of nonsense from these people. $50 isn’t a lot to lose on the card itself, but for anyone under the impression that they have immunity from breaking the law, or receiving parking tickets, the cost could end up being a lot higher. Eventually they will have their day in court, if that’s what they’re looking for, and they’re not going to win, and it’s not going to be cheap. In fact, the Maori Ranger website already showcases at least one instance of someone attempting to use their ID card to get out of paying for a speeding ticket - unsurprisingly, the NZ Police were having none of it, saying of their attempt:

The court said such arguments had been considered and rejected by the Supreme Court and were “plainly unarguable”. Parliament is sovereign and its legislation applies to all New Zealanders irrespective of race. The infringement fees remain payable by the due date.

There is a tortuous half hour long video on their website that attempts to walk people through how to rebut attempts by NZ Police to collect fines, but I can’t shake the feeling that sending an essay back to the Infringement team talking about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the US Security and Exchange Commission’s website and the United Nations Diplomatic Privileges Order 1959 is not going to be very effective.

I’ve heard the Sovereign Citizen movement being described in the past as being very much like a cargo cult. Its adherents think that legal phrases are endowed with magical abilities, and that simply uttering the right phrases in the right order, much like a magic incantation, will somehow have a legal standing and grant them immunity. This feels a lot like Cargo Cult members, who are said to believe that emulating the actions of second world war American airmen will reward them with the same wonders and riches that those airmen brought to the Pacific islands back in the day. It’s a fitting analogy.

The fastest hands in Russia?

A video from “LADbible” has been doing the rounds recently, showing members of a Russian fitness group performing feats of amazing speed. The video shows several clips of them punching something or someone so quickly that you barely see any movement, punching in circles in front of their body with a speed that makes their arms blur, and repeatedly punching something in front of them at an unbelievable rate.

Each clip has some kind of “evidence” in it to show that it’s not faked - a timer running on a mobile phone, a TV playing at normal speed in the background, or a pendulum swinging, for example.

Of course, despite their assurances to the contrary, these guys are just trying to trick people. This becomes obvious when you replay the video at normal speed and look out for anomalies. For each apparent trick of superhuman speed, there will be telltale signs of video manipulation. So, how are they doing this?

For the single punches that happen too quickly to see, they’re simply removing a bunch of frames from the video when the punch happens. As long as the camera is steady on a tripod, which it always is, removing those frames isn’t very obvious, until you look at other things that are moving in the shot - usually people. People are constantly moving a little when they stand, swaying slightly as they balance on two feet. So when you remove frames from a video, those little movements become a small but obvious instantaneous jump or shift to one side. And as soon as you see that little jump, it becomes obvious that they’ve edited the video.

For the super speedy arms, the trick is slightly different. The shot is recorded at normal speed, and then part way through the video an editing tool is used to split the video in two somewhere between the person performing the trick and the device being used to show that no trickery is being used. From that point on, the part of the video with the person is sped up and it’s hard to see where the join between the two halves is. However, if you look at the person’s body, you’ll see that not only do their fists speed up, but also the way their clothing moves, the movement of their legs, etc all speeds up too. And anything else in frame, like curtains blowing in the wind, will start moving faster. At the end of each clip they slow the video back down, but never show the person going back to the timer - because the two halves of the video are now out of sync, and if they walked across the screen they would disappear when they reached the split between the two halves of the video, and the game would be up.

It’s a clever set of tricks, and I’m not surprised that a social media group such as LADbible, who are interested in getting as many views as possible on their videos, hasn’t bothered checking for these kinds of clues that they’re fakes before sharing the video to their millions of followers. Just so long as these videos aren’t being used to recruit people to a gym and take people’s money in return for the promise of superhuman abilities, I see it as nothing more than a bit of harmless fun - apart from the occasional person who may try it at home and end up accidentally punching themselves in the chin!

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