This is a long one, but who doesn’t like a good story? TL;DR: a 500k SP alt of mine joined a corp, set up a Ponzi scheme, absconded with 13 billion isk in cash and assets, and I let a cross-section of the Eve community live-vote the final outcome. This is hardly the greatest, largest theft in the history of Eve Online, and I doubt this makes much of a ripple elsewhere in the game, but great stories are worth sharing. The first parts of this are chronicled in the “Wolf in the Flock” series, found here. Enjoy.
An avalanche can start with the smallest snowball.
As with mostly everything in Eve, the best laid plans have a way of changing and altering their course and even outcomes right in front of your face; this is the true beauty and genius of a game of this size with so many different and utterly random player interaction and input. Originally, the plan was simple: get a blank alt into a corp, train into some sort of high DPS ship, and take out as many corp members as possible before getting booted; a standard AWOX safari. I had the alt, I had chatted up and been accepted to In Omnia Paratus, a mostly Australian corp in the Fearless Flying Frogs alliance, and I was beginning to settle in nicely.
The idea took shape on its own; unplanned and almost organically after one senior member deposited 40mil into my account as a way of “getting the new guy on his feet”. I’d thanked him in corp chat, but after a few more days had gone by, I dropped him a note, profusely thanking him again for the isk, telling him how great being in corp was, and casually mentioning that through market play, I had magically turned that 40 mil into 200 mil. Moreover (!), the complex markets of Eve were actually totally open books to me, due to my (and had I possibly neglected to mention this to corp leadership yet??) real life job as an investment and trading manager! I mentioned offhand that since I had no real in-game skills, I’d been having a blast playing with the markets and making isk hand over fist; what a great game! Thanking him again, I signed off.
When I logged in the next night, I was immediately invited to a private chat with the CEO, a director, and two officers who were all very impressed with the (completely ludicrous) 400% profit I had managed to achieve in a 9 day turnaround. More importantly however, they were keen to see if I was interested in filling the much needed position of trade officer within the corp. Let it never be said I don’t stand and deliver when asked to serve; of course, I accepted.
When people are uneducated about something, but are afraid to appear so, they will tend to almost overly agree with anything you have to say on the matter wholeheartedly. I do this in real life when talking about Football, a game I enjoy watching yet whose rules and history I know shit all about; God knows how much bullshit I’ve enthusiastically agreed with over the years. The reverse scenario played out like a script in Eve; I would start talking about high finance, stocks, and investments, using power-suit buzzwords I gleaned from an online business school study sheet, and everyone around me would nod up and down and agree. They considered me a sort of wizard, which I suppose taken literally in the sense of a wizard being a made up fantasy caricature, was completely accurate on their part.
I was given access to the “trade” section of the wallet, consisting of a paltry 200 million isk. But I schemed, and I began to plan the first fake paper bricks of what would become my towering house of cards.
Borrowing liberally from the book of James315 in the infamous Currin Trading scam of years back, as well following almost to a letter the business practices of Charles Ponzi himself, I began to set things in motion. Though my barely 800,000 skillpoint toon was still training towards large blasters and a Talos, I realized very quickly that the potential was there for quite a large sum of isk; enough to be worth scrapping the plan to simply AWOX some miners. Hell, if all else failed, I decided, I would see how much isk I could scam and then simply AWOX a bunch of miners; everybody wins.
After outlining my “business plan”, the CEO and directors enthusiastically endorsed me. Again, borrowing heavily from the Currin Trading scam, I set up a website for my “investment fund”, complete with weekly trade reports, an investors list masked by “code numbers” (the master list to which only myself and the CEO would have access to – my idea – to create a mix of “transparency and security”) so investors could anonymously track their investments, a back-story, and even a fictionalized account of a fake real life career. I figured I had at most a week or two with this thing before it would crumble under its own weight, and I decided to shoot for a somewhat lofty 2 billion isk goal before that happened.
I crafted and sent out a corp-wide eve-mail, detailing the investment fund, talking about the website, and encouraging people to ask me questions any time. I made a point of doing two things in this mail: First, I very purposely used the phrase “feel free to evemail or convo me anytime with any questions” or “make deposits to…”; I made sure never to introduce doubt or hesitance through negative words like “concerns” or “give isk to”.
Secondly, since I already had the CEO on board with the idea of the fund, I made sure I subtly tied his endorsement into “implied participation”; I managed to attach his name to both me and the scheme, cementing a figure of notoriety, leadership, and most importantly trust to the fund itself in peoples heads. For instance, when talking about the guaranteed weekly 10% returns, I made sure to say things like “we’re guaranteeing”, never “I” or even directly mentioning him by name. By using “we”, I created a false implied pretense that there was a “group” of us involved in this thing, including the CEO. Satisfied with my handiwork, I send the mail and went to bed.
The response was immediate. The very next night, within 5 minutes of logging in, I had my first 100 million isk “investor”; now things were rolling.
Gradually, over the next 2 days as the weekend approached and people started logging in more often and checking their mail, I began to receive more and more convo requests, every single one of which resulted in an investment of some kind, because A.) I’m that good, and B.) no really, I’m that good. First a 50mil deposit, then a string of 100mil drops, and finally a 500mil investor. When the CEO himself as well as an investing corp officer began talking opening in corp chat about the success of my trading and the fund, I had official endorsement, and the money started doubling. When I soon reached 1 billion isk, I was incredulous, and thought for certain that things would crash at any moment and someone would finally call me out on my bullshit. Within an hour however, I was at 1.5 bil and still climbing.
When I hit the 2 billion isk goal in the first 48 hours of announcing my investment fund, I realized I needed to aim higher. I mentally reset my sights on 5 billion instead, figuring that once word got out of my first payout actually going out to people, even the skeptics would start thinking seriously about letting me turn their liquid cash into more money. I decided I’d give myself one more week to see how close I got. Sure enough, after my first round of “returns” went out, my number of investors nearly doubled in numbers.
As a means of solidifying my own possession of the isk handed my way, I pulled a classic and blindingly obvious Ponzi-scheme move: I encouraged investors to “re-cycle” their returns back into their “accounts” in order to keep things rolling for everyone, and of course solidify them a much larger payout later. This way, I didn’t even have to worry about juggling new investments into payouts for old investments. “Make your money work for you!” I told them, and with a few small exceptions, the money flow became a one-way street.
Eventually, a few nights later, the CEO (we’ll call him “Jack” from here on in) convoed me privately. So far, despite enthusiastically endorsing my fund, he had not actually invested a single iskie himself, and the paranoid spider-sense in me kept tingling that he was on to my schemes and just waiting to catch me in a lie. That night, I was wary of finally getting a “listen, how can we trust you” talk, and resolutely steeled myself to smooth talk my ass off.
As it turns out, I was couldn’t have been more wrong. Jack told me again how impressed he was with the investing, and then dropped a bomb: he wanted to match the fund’s current holdings, doubling the investment capital; I took a very healthy swig of my beer and stared at the screen. As much as you see or read about the brainless moves and unimaginable naivete of Eve players, sometimes you don’t always believe it. However, Eve always, always delivers in this regard, and here it was staring me in the face telling me to take its money already.
Jack wanted to keep his investment “off the books” (cue: dramatic eye roll from me) and off the website, yet I convinced him to let me split up his number into what would appear to be 3 new investors on the website’s coded investors list; seeing more investors on the page was a sure-fire way to attract more capital I reasoned with him, and he agreed. We also decided that his larger investment warranted higher return rates, and agreed on 15% instead of the standard 10%. I would later use this draw of a higher % return to lure more big money investors willing to invest at least a billion into the fund. My wallet flashed with Jack’s deposit, and now we were at 4 billion isk.
After our conversation though, I looked at my spreadsheet and grimaced; an investment like this could cripple the whole scheme if investments tapered off. “Paying” Jack back on his investment would be money coming directly from his own corpmates, and could potentially dry up the entire fund. Thinking quickly, I convinced Jack that the fund would, naturally, need time to “absorb” his large investment, and I voiced my concerns about his returns hurting the fund’s ability to generate better returns (don’t worry, that last line shouldn’t make any actual sense at all). Sagely (and thankfully), Jack agreed, and consented that for the good of the fund, he would hold off on getting any physical returns for another two weeks. I decided then and there that I would NEVER be paying Jack a dime back of the money he’d given me; now, I had my deadline.
With Jack’s blessing (encouragement really), I decided to “open the investment up” to the whole alliance, and while we were at it, heck, friends of the alliance as well! Another mail was crafted and sent, all positive buzzwords about the raging success of the investments so far, the funds paid out, and the financially golden future of sunshine and flowers any members of the fund could look forward to just by signing up and making a one-time deposit.
What followed became a non-stop “press butan, receive bacon” routine; I literally couldn’t log in without being barraged by convo requests and a constantly blinking wallet. I hit the 5 billion isk goal the next day, and decided that 10 billion was my new, firm goal; no matter what happened, I was determined to walk away from this thing by my deadline with an 11-figure number.
At 5.7 billion, I hit my first roadblock, in the form of massive, almost unavoidable temptation. Jack asked me to dock at our home station, whos corporate hangers I had almost full access to, and told me to “check out the POS hanger”. Uh, we have a POS hanger?
Apparently, now we did, and it was currently filled with a large Amarr tower, a few hundred million isk in POS modules, and about a billion isk in PI materials; I had no idea what to do. This was it; this was my moment to clean out everything I could from the hangers, undock in the Talos, and just go murder people in the face until downtime. My hand trembled as I moved my cursor to the hangers, fingers twitching. My heartbeat raced as I considered my options: I could grab everything now, netting me probably just over 7 bil, but that would be it; game over. The fund would be finished, I’d be kicked from corp immediately, and the isk flow would stop. Breathing deep, I made a decision: I got up and walked away.
It was awful. I commiserated by myself, drinking and just staring at the screen for the longest hour of my Eve career before the director logged on to cart everything away to the WH the tower was destined for. That was a low point, and now I knew I had to make my 10bil goal or I’d be furious with myself for letting this prize slip through my fingers.
It turns out, thankfully, that my instincts were spot on; over the next few days, I added more investors, and more isk to my collection. I grew more bold, asking for new investors outright in alliance chat, and sending out almost solicitation-type evemails. I invented a new “investment project” that “we” needed huge cash backing in order to get into and make us all tons of money on, and every single one of these tactics worked like a charm.
My second round of payouts came and went, and as I’d convinced almost every single investor to “re-invest” their returns rather than take them as cash, my wallet was bursting at the seams. That very night, I learned that we had a “corp” Charon that was sitting in the director’s hanger, and in my new-found boldness, I enquired if I could borrow it soon since I’d “be able to fly it in a few days”; it was sitting in the hangers the next day. Additionally, a corp member asked me if I could do him a solid and sell a bunch of ships for him (around 750mil worth, including a Rattlesnake), and on top of that, word of the investment was starting to leak out to new, not as active people in the alliance who wanted in on things, and I found myself another 1.5bil richer. I was reaching the point of no return, and I began lining things up for my power play.
At 2 a.m. eastern standard time on Easter Sunday, I made the first moves. I secured the Charon into my own hanger, leaving everything else as not to raise the alarms. I noticed that the corpmate who needed help selling his ships (for some reason) was logging on, and as I let him know that I could start getting his ships “into the marketplace”, he immediately opened a trade and started dropping around a billion isk worth of ships into it, including a Raven, Gila, a bunch of faction Frigates and Cruisers, and a Talos alongside the anticipated Rattlesnake. As I was finishing that trade up, a SECOND corpmate asked me to sell some ships for them as well! After finding another trade window popping open for me, I found myself the proud owner of a few more faction frigates, a Hurricane, and a Loki as well.
Grabbing a fresh drink, I sat back and calculated where I was with all this. Adding the 3.2 billion isk in ships I now had secured to the 7.8 billion in the “fund”…I realized suddenly with a grin that I had passed my goal, and was now sitting on just over 11 billion isk, with around another 800 million or so in the corporate hangers ready for the taking when I decided to cut and run. I stood on my chair and did a happy dance.
After that, everything else was just extra. A new member to the alliance needed his things moved to home base, and I selfless offered my shipping services, accepting the contract. I also decided to set up and host a series of “lotteries” celebrating the holiday weekend and the success of our investment fund so far. While this was hardly the highpoint of my whole scheme, it did net another couple hundred million over the last few days of my house of cards’ existence.
Finally, late Wednesday afternoon, I decided to make my final play. I noticed one corp member and his in-corp alt mining away in our home system in a Skiff and an Orca, and barely anyone else was online. I joined in on the mining with my Venture while I set up my logi, and prepared.
CCP has a great tagline they used in an Eve hype-video a while back, referring to a term from chaos theory called the butterfly effect, to describe the open-world sandbox that is Eve Online. Here I was, sitting on 12-13 billion isk in ill-begotten, thieved, dirty money, and at this point I could walk away; no killmails, no trail. However, this is a massive MULTIPLAYER online RPG, and as such, I decided the decision was not mine alone to make. I’d already done my evil deeds, and so I decided to put my next actions into the hands of everyone else; I opened it up to the Eve Online #tweetfleet:
The response was pretty much exactly what you’d expect from your average hyper-plugged-in cross section of the Eve community:
A few objections, but the Roman hordes had spoken (are you not entertained!).
In a twist of horrible irony, I was actually about to kill the Orca pilot with the very Talos he’d given me to sell for him. I docked up, moved my logi into position, emptied everything I had access to in the hangers, and undocked. I warped back to the belt, locked up both ships, and started laying down a heavy dose of sudden but inevitable betrayal. I knocked down the Skiff first, before turning my attentions to the Orca.
At that point, chaos pretty much ensued in corp chat, to which I added to by inventing a dramatic story of revenge, claiming the Orca pilot “owed me” and I was going to get my stolen isk come hell or high water. I stalled and stalled, trying to get either isk or an ejected-from free Orca out of the deal, but to no avail. Finally worried about the possibility of Guristas jamming rats in the system we were in ruining the whole thing, I pulled the trigger and finished it off.
…and here I’d been wondering why that Orca was so tough. Eat a dick Loot Fairy.
After that, it was all over. I warped to a safe, stuck my Talos in an Orca, aimed my pod in a random direction and went to grab dinner and drinks. Oh, and here’s the obligatory “giant pile of loots” screenshot (does not count all the stuff I pulled out of the corp hangers, and I’m not docking yet to get one):
Now on to the critique: yes, I possibly could have stayed and made more, but there was no guarantee of that, and investments were slowing down anyways. Without more and more input, a Ponzi scheme collapses pretty fast, and the trick to cashing out is predicting the peak before the decline. Also, it was only a matter of time before the Director, who never did invest and I’m quite sure never swallowed my bullshit, asked for the freighter back, and there was also only so long I could pretend to have 1.7 bil in ships “on the market” without paying people out for them. But in 3 1/2 weeks, I walked away with 13 billion in isk; I’d set a goal, I’d passed it with flying colors, and I’m content with that.
While I did some pretty underhanded (read: “smart, crafty, and awesome”) things, I did drawn the line a few places: when a noobie wanted to give me 15 mil towards the fund, his entire Eve savings, I turned him down, and when one member completely bought my line about being an investment banker/stock trader in real life and wanted advice on what to drop loads of acutal, real life money on, like the next day, I talked him down into buying a book and playing penny stocks until he got the hang of it; I hope he gets rich off stock in something like American Beef someday and thinks of me.
So thats my story, and at the risk of this turning into a John Irving novel, I’ll end things here. Many thanks go out to Psychotic Monk (for CSM!) for his fantastic guide to Safaris, which convinced me to roll some new AWOX toons and get back out there, and to a certain extent James315, who gets a definite nod for his work in the Currin Trading scam years ago; imitation is the highest form of flattery and all that.
To InOm corp: it was real, it was good; it was real good. Nothing personal, good luck, and welcome to Eve Online.
P.S. Oh, and I still have an alt in your corp