To keep their bond-ratings, hedge-funds have to publicly demonstrate that they are the most ruthless of landlords

After the subprime crisis, vulture funds swept into the hardest-hit areas and bought thousands of foreclosed-upon homes at firesale prices and floated bonds based on the expected returns from the rents they'd be able to charge in an America with the lowest levels of home-ownership in modern history. (more…)

Once you have a student’s name, birthday and SSN, the US Department of Education will give you EVERYTHING else

The US Department of Education's Free Application for Federal Student Aid program requires any student applying for federal aid for college or university to turn over an enormous amount of compromising personal information, including current and previous addresses, driver's license numbers, Green Card numbers, marital details, drug convictions, educational history, tax return details, total cash/savings/checking balances, net worth of all investments, child support received, veterans' benefits, children's details, homelessness status, parents details including SSNs, and much, much more. (more…)

Paradise Papers reveal cozy relationship between Stubhub and Canadian botmaster/scalper kingpin

The Paradise Papers continue to expose the economically useless activity that late-stage capitalism rewards with titanic sums of money: today, it's the story of Julien Lavallée, a botmaster ticket-scalper who has harvested the lion's share of concert tickets from all over the world, laundering them for millions through a secret "top seller" program that Stubhub offers to anyone who can move more than $50,000 worth of tickets per year. (more…)

How the UK’s "Company Factories" helped criminals from 13 countries launder £80B in stolen and looted money

Transparency International found 766 dodgy companies registered to just 6 UK addresses, formed by Trust and Companies Service Providers (colloquially called "company factories") that took advantage of the drastic understaffing at Companies House (the primary oversight body for company formation) to launder over £80 billion in stolen money smuggled out of 13 countries. (more…)

The Spider Network, a novelistic account of the mediocre rich men who robbed the world with Libor

Enrich served as the WSJ's European Banking Editor during the runup to the financial crisis of 2008 and in its aftermath, as bankers who'd brought the world's economy to its knees took home huge bonuses while their employers sucked up billions in taxpayer bailouts. He found himself a confidant of Tom Hayes, the only banker to do serious time for the LIBOR scandal, and recorded hours and hours of frank interviews with Hayes and his wife.

image This affords Enrich a unique perspective on the LIBOR scandal, one that he fleshes out with admirable depth using court testimony and the astounding mountain of evidence drawn from the archived chats and voice-calls by the bankers who conspired together to rip off the entire planet.

What emerges from the story is a picture of mediocrity clothed in tailor-made suits. Buffoonish brokers bribe odious traders with overpriced Champagne to get their business, while the whole gang wheedles lazy, asleep-at-the-switch colleagues to falsify the data in the spreadsheet cells that are treated as empirical market benchmarks but are literally just made-up numbers. Regulators look the other way, compliance officers pretend they don't see anything, and when government lawyers finally take an interest, they get halfway through their investigations before quitting their jobs and going to work for the banks they've been prosecuting, with multi-million-dollar hiring bonuses.

Meanwhile, the crooked trading turns out to all be a socially useless casino, not "providing liquidity" or "allocating capital" or "discovering prices" but just spinning the wheel and throwing the dice with other peoples' money.

The (mostly) men involved in the scam are painted as a thoroughly dislikable lot, but without resorting to caricature. Rather, Enrich invites us to empathize with them -- understand their motives and the framework they live in -- without sympathizing (letting them off the hook for their shitty behavior).

Hayes is at the center of the book: on the autistic spectrum, often foolish, mathematically brilliant, personally deplorable at nearly every turn. But he is still a figure that Enrich finds empathy for, even managing the trick of getting us to root for him now and again as he bellows abuse at the people around him (it helps that most of them are no better).

Enrich is doing important work here, making one of the most significant, complicated and boring affairs of the past decade into something accessible, exciting, and salient. This is financial writing at its best.

The Spider Network: The Wild Story of a Math Genius, a Gang of Backstabbing Bankers, and One of the Greatest Scams in Financial History [David Enrich/Custom House]

24 hours later, ANOTHER massive Wells Fargo fraud scandal

It's been a whole day since we learned about another example of systematic, widespread fraud by America's largest bank Wells Fargo (ripping off small merchants with credit card fees), so it's definitely time to learn about another one: scamming mortgage borrowers out of $43/month for an unrequested and pointless "home warranty service" from American Home Shield, a billion-dollar scam-factory that considers you a customer if you throw away its junk-mail instead of ticking the "no" box and sending it back. (more…)