Programmer puts ‘SOS’ in code, gets himself out of pyramid scheme
By Li Yezi

2017-05-26 19:07 GMT+8

When you are stranded, circled by suspicious people with bad intentions, could you use your job skills to get out? A smart programmer did just that, putting on quite a James Bond show in the process!

Helping a stranger during his national holiday trip to Tianjin Municipality our protagonist, Zhang, an IT company employee from east China’s Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, fell into the plot of a pyramid scheme, as the lady he offered help lured him into her organization of pyramid scheme in the name of “repay his kindly assistance.”

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A pyramid scheme is a business model formed on recruiting members via a promise of payments or service for enrolling others into the scheme, rather than supplying. It involves a series of illegal activities to lure, mesmerize and threaten as many people as possible to sustain the scheme.

“Dozens of people showed up out of blue. They took away all my belongings and stranded me in a bungalow,” described Zhang. The kind-hearted young man thought he was to meet his recipient, who he offered 200 yuan (30 US dollars) and escorted her to safety, and she said she would return Zhang the money. But all he got was endless brainwashing talks and confinement. The organization restricted Zhang from contact outside, only allowing him to call his company twice for job handover. Within ten days Zhang’s two supervised calls had all his coworkers confused – he said he could not get his ticket back, and brought up his resignation through the phone call.

To get himself out of trouble, Zhang thought through a smart plan: he – still under supervision - called Yu on May 12, one of his most experienced coworkers. Zhang said a piece of code he wrote could compromise the software he and Yu worked with. Instead of explaining the error he told Yu a wrong code path which both of them knew was wrong. Yu detected abnormality at the moment since none of the result Zhang said could possibly happen. Alarmed, Yu managed to join Zhang’s plan, and replied, “I’ll check and call you back.”

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The IT team at Zhang’s company, speculating upon what Zhang had said and done, presumed that he could be under threatening. They analyzed Zhang’s codes and found out he capitalized initials “SOS” in his code. Yu then called back to Zhang with a series of code including “6”, hinting him to reverse. In binary expression “six” is written “110”, which is China’s ART and Zhang knew at once he got his message sent out!

Within 13 hours, Zhang’s coworkers formed a 10-person rescue team, who got in touch with Zhang’s family and assisted Tianjin police locate the organization. The group of smart geek eventually helped cracking down the pyramid scheme organization and rescued Zhang.

China has put huge efforts in combating pyramid schemes-related activities. According to a Ministry of Public Security report, China in 2016 saw 2,826 pyramid scheme cases solved, including over 30 cases that involve over 100 million yuan (15 million US dollars).