For anyone unfamiliar with the @HiddenCash story, there’s a rich dude running around the U.S., stashing fistfuls of cash for people to find. It’s called a Social Media Scavenger Hunt. He uses the @HiddenCash Twitter handle to drop clues as to the money’s general location, or to announce the next area to be blessed with his
We know it’s a guy, ’cause in early June of this year his identity was revealed, either by an interviewer or by design (I’d bet on the latter). He is alleged real estate scammer Jason Buzi, an ex-mortgage industry mercenary who keeps his house flipping out of the traditional real estate processes. Buzi is what’s known as a “lowballer”: He saturates neighborhoods with flyers offering “Ca$h for your home,” then contractually locks suckers into the price he offers. Assuring his clients they don’t even have to leave their homes, their contracts obligate them to sell to him alone. Buzi then goes off in search of an unknown third party to cover his end of the deal, leaving homeowners high and dry ’til he does. Eventually, the mystery investor acquires the property and flips it for a much higher price.
I don’t know about you, but I know someone who lost their home through these kinds of “deals.” And when the recession hit, Buzi is known to have made the money he’s now giving away. Personally, I wouldn’t search for his money if he put it in my bathroom.
Buzi employed his questionable tactic as far back as the mid-90s, all the while claiming to be your average Joe – “a real person, just like you.” At one point, Buzi’s success caught the attention of Forbes, but it wasn’t long before he discovered just how much more attention he could get by giving money away.
He got his first taste for that attention in 2008, when he pretended to be a spokesman/VP for a outfit called Cashtomato.com. A company press release celebrated a “wealthy and eccentric real estate investor” hoping to give away money (for his birthday) to anyone asking for it. It claimed to have “…distributed thousands of dollars in cash to students in the UK and US, and to stunned passersby in London, San Francisco, and soon New York and more cities.”
Buzi – acting as a loyal VP – further describes Cashtomato’s elusive founder as having “more money than he knows what to do with,” adding that he “strongly believes that it is better to give than to receive.” Aww, what a guy!
So it’s no surprise that today’s media has run wild with a nearly identical “this is what he best enjoys doing” reverie for Buzi’s @HiddenCash antics, which has the public running wild as well.
From the Los Angeles Times:
Unlike scavenger hunts in the past, the William Penn Park gathering quickly became unmanageable as roughly 1,000 people trampled on plants, destroyed fences and sprinklers and even tried to uproot a newly planted tree believing cash was hidden in the fresh dirt.
Never mind that Northern California real estate agents and homeowners alike warn each other to keep their wallets close when dealing with Buzi, or that his misleading, barely legal house-flipping tactics make @HiddenCash something of a vacation from constantly being on the defensive. As for causing a stampede among low wagers eager to feel like they finally got something of their own? Boring! You could set your watch by the cynicism of making plebeians scrabble at dirt with their fingernails for $140. And @HiddenCash is nothing, if not cynical. From Buzi toying with people and calling it a good deed, to his shrewdly building an Up With People public profile around himself as an anonymous “donor.” I actually wonder why more folks aren’t asking what purpose this all serves.
And why not press Buzi on why he chooses these self-aggrandizing public appeasements instead of donating money to one of countless charities? I’m guessing such an option would have afforded true anonymity – as if he really wanted that after all.
But I get it: cutting a check to fight homelessness isn’t sexy or fun. You’ll never hook CNN without donating enough to buy a building, and even that’s no guarantee. But blowing $5000 in damages to a neighborhood park for what was ultimately your own gain is an affront to the concept of a good deed in the first place. Then again, you’re a purveyor of spam and a real estate trickster.
Too many people have hopped aboard the bread and circuses express of “Leave him alone; he’s making people happy.” Add up all the money Buzi has spent flying around the country, staying in hotels, and so forth, and one can’t help but wonder how many people could have been made happier and healthier with a genuine investment of that magnitude in their well being. On the other hand, it might be easier to compare the number of meals he could’ve purchased with what the Cashtomato melee cost him.
Not that it’s any big whoop, but Buzi has obviously never turned the pages of the Lloyd C. Douglas novel Magnificent Obsession, in which the power of truly anonymous charity emancipates the giver on an almost spiritual level from the semantics and strains of daily life. Maybe he should pick up a copy if he can sit still long enough to read it.
And yes, you’re welcome to throw perhaps the biggest argument of all in my face. We all know this is Buzi’s money and Buzi can burn it any way he wants. But the more he masquerades as a gentleman philanthropist, turning mobs of people into mental pine cones at the chance of feeling rewarded for about six minutes, the greater the lack of character he demonstrates.