EEVblog Tears into the White Van Speaker Scam

[Dave Jones] shows us just how bad audio equipment can get with his white van speaker scam teardown (YouTube link). Hackaday Prize judge [Dave] has some great educational videos on his EEVblog YouTube channel, but we can’t get enough of his rants – especially when he’s ranting about cheap electronics. Check out his world’s “cheapest” camcorder teardown for a classic example

This week [Dave] is tearing down some white van speaker scam A/V equipment. The White Van Speaker Scam (WVSS) is an international hustle which has been around for decades. A pair of guys in a white van stop you in a parking lot, gas station, or other public area. They tell you they’ve got some brand new A/V equipment in the back of their van that they’ll give you for a “great deal”. The speakers are always in fancy packaging, and have a name that sounds like it could be some sort of high-end audiophile brand worth thousands.

Needless to say anyone who buys this equipment finds they’ve been duped and are now the proud owner of some equipment which only sounds good when hitting the bottom of a dumpster. Coincidentally, a dumpster is exactly where [Dave] found his WVSS equipment.

The case of his “Marc Vincent” surround sound system turned out to be nothing more than thin chipboard hot glued together. The electronics were of such shoddy quality that few words describe them – though [Dave] is always ready to improvise. From the ultra cheap subwoofer driver to the 1990′s era vacuum fluorescent display, everything was built down to the lowest cost while still looking nice from the outside. Even the ground wire was just tack soldered to the frame. We especially liked the three vacuum tubes that weren’t even soldered in. The leads were bent over to hold them onto a PCB, while a blue LED lit the tube from below.

Click past the break to see what [Dave] found inside his “3D Optics” projector.

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Using Facebook Ads to Prank your Friends

Most tech savvy individuals are well aware of the vast amounts of data that social networking companies collect on us. Some take steps to avoid this data collection, others consider it a trade-off for using free tools to stay in touch with friends and family. Sometimes these ads can get a bit… creepy. Have you ever noticed an ad in the sidebar and thought to yourself, “I just searched for that…” It can be rather unsettling.

[Brian] was looking for ways to get back at his new roommate in retaliation of prank that was pulled at [Brian's] expense. [Brian] is no novice to Internet marketing. One day, he realized that he could create a Facebook ad group with only one member. Playing off of his roommate’s natural paranoia, he decided to serve up some of the most eerily targeted Facebook ads ever seen.

Creating extremely targeted ads without giving away the prank is trickier than you might think. The ad can’t be targeted solely for one person. It needs to be targeted to something that seems like a legitimate niche market, albeit a strange one. [Brian's] roommate happens to be a professional sword swallower (seriously). He also happens to ironically have a difficult time swallowing pills. naturally, [Brian] created an ad directed specifically towards that market.

Sword Swallowing Ad

The roommate thought this was a bit creepy, but mostly humorous. Slowly over the course of three weeks, [Brian] served more and more ads. Each one was more targeted than the last. He almost gave himself away at one point, but he managed to salvage the prank. Meanwhile, the roommate grew more and more paranoid. He started to think that perhaps Facebook was actually listening in on his phone calls. How else could they have received some of this information? As a happy coincidence, all of this happened at the same time as the [Edward Snowden] leaks. Not only was the roommate now concerned about Facebook’s snooping, but he also had the NSA to worry about.

Eventually, [Brian] turned himself in using another custom Facebook ad as the reveal. The jig was up and no permanent damage was done. You might be wondering how much it cost [Brian] for this elaborate prank? The total cost came to $1.70. Facebook has since changed their ad system so you can only target a minimum of 20 users. [Brian] provides an example of how you can get around the limitation, though. If you want to target a male friend, you can simply add 19 females to the group and then target only males within your group of 20 users. A pretty simple workaround

This prank brings up some interesting social questions. [Brian's] roommate seemed to actually start believing that Facebook might be listening in on his personal calls for the purposes of better ad targeting. How many other people would believe the same thing? Is it really that far-fetched to think that these companies might move in this direction? If we found out they were already doing this type of snooping, would it really come as a shock to us?

[Woz] prints and spend his own $2 bills

[Steve Wozniak's] damn the man, devil may care attitude continues to show with this recent interview. Here he shows off the pad of $2 bills he had made up. He’ll sell one sheet of them to you for $5. Do you think that’s a scam? He say’s “you’d be an idiot not to buy it for five bucks” and after we dug a little deeper, he’s right.

Now, you really need to watch the video after the break before you read the rest of this feature. Trust us, it’s extremely entertaining. [Woz] mentions that he hired a local printer to make the pads for him, but he got the paper from a high-quality print shop. They meet the specs of the federal government and by law they’re legal tender. Each pad has a page of four bills which can be torn off of the gummed top, and there are perforations between each bill for easy separation.

Nothing illegal is going on here. We followed one of the YouTube commentor’s links to this article [Woz] wrote about his $2 bill exploits. The high-quality printer he buys the paper from is the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. He buys the bills in sheets and pays a premium for that option. Each $2 bill costs him $3. But the fun he’s had over the years is probably worth it.

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Reddit hacking for votes and profit

Looks like someone figured out how to game the Reddit system. This probably has been done before, but as far as we know nobody’s actually shared the methods in detail. [Esrun] wrote some scripts that allow him to register multiple accounts and use them to up-vote stories.

The hack goes something like this. A script registers a group of accounts. Each uses a different IP and the only part that requires intervention is typing in the Captcha. This doesn’t take long. You can see the script interface above as well as a demonstration video after the break.

Once the accounts have been acquired a story is submitted and the new accounts vote on it. They’re not all up-votes though, as having both up and down votes puts the article into the controversial section of Reddit (which is desirable), and doesn’t rouse as much suspicion from the moderators. He ran a few tests that he shares and it seems that as long as the article is interesting, this can be quite successful.

Great, more spam with our social media please.

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Simple, low-tech attack on Credit Unions

credit

The National Credit Union Administration is warning all Credit Unions about malicious hackers and a low tech attack by mailing branches CDs with malware on them.

Using a somewhat dated but still effective Social Engineering attack, a package designed to look as though it was mailed by the NCUA is sent to the branch. The package contains CDs with the attacker’s malware on it, and an accompanying letter (PDF) which informs the branches, ironically, about phishing scams. The letter directs the personnel to review the “training material” on the enclosed CD. Once branch employees proceed as directed, the malware is executed and gives the attackers access to the branch computer systems. Credit Unions seem to be targeted because they tend to be smaller local associations rather then larger banks with higher budgets for computer security.

When people think computer security, they usually envision high tech systems comprising of long passwords, expensive hardware, and updating software with the latest security patches. However, as famed social engineer and hacker Kevin Mitnick once said, “There is no patch for stupidity”.

[via threat post]

Hack your customer service rep


Hacks come in all forms, and psychological hacks are no different. [Noah Goldstein], a behavioral scientist at the University of Chicago, has written a book in which he details scientifically proven methods of persuading others. One of these methods stands out as being particularly useful at alleviating one of the most aggravating aspects of modern life: dealing with customer service representatives over the telephone.

The trick? Be nice, compliment the rep on doing a good job, and offer to write a letter of recommendation. Since it stands to reason that the customer service rep is probably having a crappier day than you (imagine having to talk to a hundred annoyed people five days a week and you’ll get the idea), making the rep feel appreciated is likely to make them want to do more for you in return.

[photo: brycej]

[via BoingBoing]