Nick Fountain

Tim Demarais works for an American company called ABRO. The brand is a big deal in many foreign countries. They sell so much masking tape in places like Pakistan that when people there refer to a roll of masking tape, they'll often call it a roll of ABRO.

But back in 2002, ABRO's sales started to dip. Tim heard from a customer that counterfeit ABRO goods in China might be causing the problem. So, he flew over to investigate. What he discovered-- the extent of the fraud--was shocking. And even more surprising, the company posing as ABRO insisted they were the real ABRO.

We're back for our annual tradition: Channeling another year's worth of jealousy and self-loathing into a whole episode just for you. Happy Valentine's Day!

Here at Planet Money, we spend a lot of time digging around for stories and new ideas. So when we come across something that we think brilliantly explains our economy--we're often like, "Why the heck didn't we come up with that?!"

When a listener emailed to tell us that a plane full of passengers had just unexpectedly landed in Iran, we just had to figure out what happened.

Today on the show, we hear what it's like to go to Iran by accident from two passengers who were on that flight. And we discover that, while getting people out of Iran is one thing, getting an airplane out of Iran is just a very expensive intercontinental geopolitical mess. It's a vacation story with tourists, a sanctioned government, and an unlucky plane from Norway.

A lot can happen after we put an episode out into the world. That's why we love The Rest Of The Story, our periodic check-in on stories we've reported.

Today on the show, we revisit some episodes from the year that was. In case you missed them, here are the original episodes featured.

If you are one of the more than 70 million people who've been arrested in America, you probably have a mugshot. Websites have turned these mugshots into a business, posting mugshots and charging people to take them down.

If they don't pay up, the mugshot can make it hard to get jobs, dates, housing, even if they were never actually charged or convicted. Some people call it extortion. The websites call it a public service.

Today on the show, we go deep inside the online mugshot industry, where the First Amendment and our right to privacy clash in really complicated ways.

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Episode 876: Patent Deception

Nov 14, 2018

World Patent Marketing's pitch to inventors was simple: Pay us lots of money, and we'll take care of the complicated patent office details. Hundreds of tinkerers and would-be visionaries took this deal.

After all, the patent system is complicated. Marketing is tricky. It can be hard to find factories. But, for new inventors, it's hard to tell a legitimate service from a scam. It was especially hard to tell with World Patent Marketing, which boasted an advisory board that included Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.

Episode 874: Hot Dog Hail Mary

Nov 7, 2018

Overpriced stadium food is standard at big-time sporting events. If you get hungry, expect to fork over $7 for a hot dog. It's annoying. It's also simple economics: Inside a stadium, there's no competition bringing prices down, so prices stay high. Sports fans are trapped in a captive market.

That's usually the end of the story. But the Atlanta Falcons are trying something different. They've lowered prices. It could change the way stadium economics works.

Today on the show: We send two reporters down to Mercedes-Benz Stadium to eat their way through a radical experiment.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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This morning, the winners of the Nobel Prize in economics were announced. The prize will be split by two economists, William Nordhaus and Paul Romer. Nick Fountain from our Planet Money podcast is with me now. Good morning, Nick.

At Planet Money, we usually tackle the big questions. Not today.

This time, we relish small changes, proposed by smart people, that would make the world a bit fairer. (By the way, we've done this before.)

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Every August, thousands of people get together for the world's longest yard sale. It runs 690 miles from Alabama to Michigan. Nick Fountain and Karen Duffin from our Planet Money podcast drove the whole entire thing looking for economic stories.

Every August, thousands of people converge on The World's Longest Yard Sale. It spans from Alabama to Michigan. We decided to drive the whole thing, to see 690 miles of microeconomics at work.

We follow a yard sale fanatic on her quest to find the perfect bed frame, and learn her strategies for getting the best deals. We buy some records from a man who decides he wants to buy them back. And we pick up some 70s amber goblets, a baseball bat, an ugly cat cookie jar... you get the idea.

Walls, doors, privacy--if you work a desk job in America you probably do not have have these luxuries anymore.

This is the age of the open office, of half-cubicles and clustered desks, of huge rooms of long communal tables with white-collar workers shoulder-to-shoulder, sometimes wearing $350 noise-cancelling headphones to block out the clatter. Then over to the side, maybe there's an airy lounge space with sofas and a comfy chair or two. Maybe there's even a ping pong table on the way to the bathroom.

Note: This episode originally ran in 2016.

Note: This episode originally aired in 2015.

The most valuable thing about a yellow taxicab in New York isn't the car. It's actually this little metal shield bolted to the hood. It's called a taxi medallion. There are only about 13,000 taxi medallions in existence. And Gene Freidman owns over a thousand of them.

Not too long ago, these medallions were selling for $1.2 million each. Gene Freidman liked to boast about how much he paid for them, often with borrowed money.

Class actions have been around for centuries. But the modern version was created in the 1960s — in part by a young lawyer working on a manual typewriter in the back seat of a car. At the time, class actions were seen as a way to advance the civil rights movement.

Today, thousands of class actions are filed every year. Some of them are still about civil rights. But they're also about things questions like: Is there enough pepper in this tin of pepper?

On today's show, we find out how we got here, and ask whether this is a good way to do things.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

People across the country are finding packages they haven't ordered inside their mailboxes. Nick Fountain from our Planet Money podcast investigates.

NICK FOUNTAIN, BYLINE: When did you first get a weird package?

A few years ago, a strange package arrived at the house of Celina Salas. Inside was a plastic watch, painted gold. It only kind of worked. Over many months, more and more oddball surprises arrived: a piggy bank, a friendship bracelet, a fuzzy keychain. And she never learned why. Celina, as they say, is not alone. Odd packages like this have been reported arriving all over the country.

So we tried to figure out what was going on, and the answer led us across the globe, and into some players gaming some of the largest companies in the world.

In 1872, Congress passed The Mining Act, a law designed to make mining on U.S. land easy and cheap. The government wanted to encourage westward expansion. They wanted people to head out, find minerals, get rich, and settle down.

The Mining Act of 1872 is still in place, and getting the rights to dig up gold in the US today isn't all that different than it was during the Gold Rush.

Today on the show: How has this system stayed the same for almost 150 years? And why is this country giving away its gold on public land. And its silver, and platinum, and copper....

The New York Produce Show and Conference looks like a grocery store the size of the Javits Center, one of the biggest convention centers in the country. But it's a grocery store that's nothing but produce aisle. Fruits are carefully displayed, often accompanied by slick videos or Christmas trees. Salespeople wait at booths to extol the virtues of their pumpkins and avocados. They're eager to give away t-shirts, pens, lip balm, even bags of sweet potatoes. Their goal isn't just to network, it's to woo the power players of produce, who make decisions about the fate of fruits.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

A few years ago, a rumor started going around the casino world. There was a crew of Russians hitting up casinos across the U.S. They'd roll up, find their favorite slot machine, play for a couple hours, and walk out with thousands of dollars. They didn't lose.

All of it was caught on camera, but there was no evidence that these men ever physically tampered with the slot machines. There was, however, something unusual about the way the men played: They always kept one hand buried in their pockets or in the bags they carried with them.

The Fox News Channel is under investigation by federal prosecutors to determine whether it broke securities law in making payments in the sexual harassment scandal that ultimately cost former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes his job, according to a lawyer currently suing the network.

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Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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It's been a hot summer, and with summer comes crime and ice cream. From NPR's Planet Money podcast, Nick Fountain has a story about where the two meet.