The identity of @HiddenCash is hidden no more. He’s Jason Buzi, a San Francisco real estate investor, house-flipper, author, internet marketer and entrepreneur.
For the past two weeks Buzi has played the role of benevolent mystery man, hiding money across California. Nearly half a million followers of his Twitter read the clues he leaves and and solve the scavenger hunt for cash.
Within days of uncovering @HiddenCash’s identity more than a week ago, The Investigative Unit looked into Buzi’s past, revealing a history of cash-giveaways, online money-making attempts and controversial real-estate deals.
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The @HiddenCash Twitter account calls it a “social experiment for good” and Buzi insists there’s no profit-based agenda. He says he wants to encourage others to pay it forward.
“Just because I am a businessperson doesn't mean everything for me is about making money. It isn't," he told the Investigative Unit in an email.
- Photos: "HiddenCash" Frenzy in San Jose
The once-anonymous Twitter handle has sparked a sudden, international movement of money giveaways and scavenger hunts, while also causing some chaos along the way.
It’s a scene that looks similar to a previous event Buzi staged.
New York City, 2008: A publicity stunt put on by Buzi’s now-defunct video sharing website “CashTomato” turns rotten.
“CashTomato” employees hid cash in tomato boxes in Union Square, sparking a riot that sent one person to the hospital and had to be broken up by police. It sparked some very negative headlines — from “worst promotion ever” to “Cashtomato stunt turns rotten.”
Buzi told one newspaper he would “plan it better next time.” It looks like @HiddenCash might be that next time.
CashTomato had a similar message to @HiddenCash. In a press release for the event, the company announced that its “anonymous founder, a wealthy and eccentric real estate investor has decided to give away money” to users who sign up for the website.
The press release said that the founder “hopes to give away many, many thousands of dollars in the next month, before his birthday, March 21.” Public records confirm that March 21 is Buzi’s actual birthday.
Cash For Houses
Real estate profits appeared to fuel the CashTomato venture, but some homeowners in Palo Alto have questioned Buzi's business practices.
Over a hundred posts on this blog show homeowners complaining that Buzi regularly left notes in their mailboxes asking to purchase their homes in cash.
In this article, the author wonders if this is all a scam.
Buzi says he isn't surprised by the response.
“I know some agents don't like me, so they write negative things," he told the Investigative Unit. "I buy properties throughout the Bay Area. On and off market.”
1990s Internet Spam
In the 1990s, Buzi’s name was associated with numerous get-rich-quick promotions on the internet. A mass email in 1997 pushed a CD he was selling, called “How to Make Big Money on the Internet.”
"If you have internet access, you have a goldmine at your fingertips," he wrote in the email.
Buzi refused to comment recently on these early business ventures. "No comment. I hardly even remember 1997," he said.
2011 to 2013 Internet Marketing
From 2011 to 2013, Buzi posted in an internet marketing forum discussing ways to make money on the internet.
“Been trying to make money online for a few years now and have finally found something that seems to work," a 2012 post reads. "It's not much, but I’ve already made twenty dollars in commissions.”
“The Scam,” a Novel by Jason Buzi
Buzi posted an incomplete draft of a novel entitled “The Scam” for feedback online.
“The book was to be about a stockbroker who's running different scams and then commits murder to cover his tracks," he wrote in the post. "All his scams and schemes come from this insecurity. This is based on someone I know.”
Buzi confirmed that he is the author.
“This was based on someone I knew," he said in an email. "I have never been a stockbroker. If I wrote about a horse, would that make me one?”
Buzi insists that @HiddenCash is a “not a business or promotion” and “not for profit” and says he will give an on-camera interview to the Investigative Unit next week.
Motive or no motive, Buzi’s ventures take advantage of one simple truth: people love cash.
Do you have a tip for the Investigative Unit?
Email us: TheUnit@nbcbayarea.com