The (Probable) Demise of a Long-Running Poker Scam
A year and change ago, we detailed one of the latest in a rich tradition of poker-themed scams to have graced the Internet. A blatant Ponzi scheme titled PokerAutomatics, most likely based in Russia or the Ukraine, had succeeded in conning hundreds, if not thousands, of victims into investing into a fictitious poker-bot network that was supposedly running hundreds of bots on the Internet’s largest poker sites and networks, thus profiting for everyone involved.
Of course, it was all a sham, and now it seems that the sham’s operators have pulled down the circus tents and moved on to newer and different schemes. Over the course of the last two months (and with a thank-you to forum poster “MeleaB,” who tipped me off regarding the latest developments) the unknown thieves behind Poker Automatics have engaged in a series of steps that makes it clear that the scam has run its course.
The biggest indicator won’t surprise anyone: The steady stream of micropayments being made to the scheme’s earlier investors stopped without warning in mid-March. It’s quite likely that the scheme reached the point where new investments dropped significantly below the amounts that the scheme’s organizers were spending to keep the show going, which as any self-respecting scammer could tell the world is the time to cut and run.
Then there’s the little matter of the site’s former online home, Pokeram.com, which has — Poof! — disappeared. No surprise there either. If there is an interesting twist to this utterly predictable tale, it’s that some of the organizers of the old scam have claimed to be launching a replacement site at a new domain, AutomaticNetworks.org. Except that domain doesn’t work either; don’t hold your breath. (Here’s a link to a Google+ discussion area where the demise of Poker Automatics continues to be discussed.)
So why would the scheme’s organizers go through the ruse of claiming that the whole of the original scheme’s impossible botnet was being moved to a new domain? The answer appears to be to sow confusion among the scam’s victims and buy more time to run off with the stolen funds. Indeed, several of the jilted investors have been able to track large streams of Bitcoins associated with accounts once connected with the faux Poker Automatics scheme. Those illicit funds continue to be shuffled through several different Bitcoin blockchain transactions, large and small. It’s not possible to truly bury the Bitcoin trail, but it is possible to make it damn difficult to track.
No one will ever know exactly how much the thieves pocketed from their fraud. It might have been tens of thousands of dollars, or hundreds of thousands. But it’s clear they’ve moved on to better and brighter schemes.
Last year, when we detailed the workings of the Poker Automatics scam (Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3), we took pains to deconstruct the whole operation, point-by-point. The scheme’s fraudulent components were laughingly obvious:
- A supposed poker botnet which was later claimed to have nearly 1,000 participating computer, all playing low-stakes, fixed-limit hold’em on the world’s major poker networks, would itself overwhelm the fixed-limit tables available online. Limit hold’em just isn’t that popular, and there were never enough sites and tables available for the scheme to be run invisibly;
- Each of those accounts would necessarily involve a verified person’ identity and, in many cases, a separate computer. Besides the computer overhead itself, could you imagine trying to round up a couple of hundred non-poker-playing relatives and friends, and asking them to provide their identities to you for use online?
- And of course, all of this supposed play was being done at microstakes, where even the best players find it tough to overcome the proportionately higher rake;
- All of Poker Automatics’ paid spokespersons were in fact cheap actors hired from New York (US)-based Fiverr and similar sites. Fiverr, for its part, continues to flaunt New York law by allowing and profiting from such false testimonials.
Well, the royal “we” had fun exposing all this stuff last year. A few experienced poker types wondered why we wasted so much effort on exposing a fraud that was obvious from the beginning to anyone with significant knowledge of the online poker world. The answer is that we weren’t publishing those pieces for the experienced-player audience.
Instead, we were doing public-service work for casual- and non-poker types who were less able to see through the scheme. Call it outreach, work done for the type of player who’s just developing an interest in the game. If less-knowledgeable people could find those posts about the scheme and thus save themselves being ripped off, then that’s a good thing. If enough people saved themselves from wasting money, then maybe we hastened the demise of this particular Ponzi scheme by a few days or weeks. Such schemes always fail anyway, but the sooner, the better.