Remember, in the film Punch-Drunk Love, how Adam Sandler’s character tries to exploit a promotional loophole that allows him to accumulate millions of frequent flyer miles by buying all the Healthy Choice pudding in a supermarket? Well, this scheme to attain free Uber for life was a heck of a lot simpler, and it actually worked—for a while.

Blake Jareds, clearly obligated by name alone to work for a New York real estate startup, was the cunning taxi addict who figured out how to turn Uber into his free 24/7 chauffeur service, and all it took was a flexible definition of “friend.” Because the on-demand limo app will credit $20 to your account for every acquaintance that signs up using a personalized code (and those new users get their own $45 starting bonus), Jareds tweaked his garbled string of letters and numbers to “uber$20FreeRide,” then emailed it to 700 people and posted it on a bargain-focused subreddit, where SEO magic made it a top Google link.

The result? Some 2,500 people took the deal, netting Jareds a $50,000 Uber balance—enough for rides home on all his rainy New Year’s Eves to come, or to crawl through about 2000 miles of Los Angeles traffic. For eight weeks thereafter, Jareds claims, he didn’t have to pay Uber a dime. But, like many such mythical figures, he finally flew too close to the sun. In a comment to Business Insider, he explained his tragic misstep:

Rated a driver one star because he took a terrible route and wasted 30 minutes. That review was probably flagged in the system, which led to a community manager to review the ride, and consequently my account. They noticed how high my credits were and froze my account. I couldn't log in Monday morning and emailed them about it. They responded that I earned credit inappropriately and my account/credit was suspended.

I think a good rule of thumb would be: Never gripe about a free ride. Even if it’s in your buddy’s smelly van, and he’s blasting southern rock, and the seatbelt is mostly duct tape.

Uber didn’t deny that the complaint triggered their punitive action, instead falling back on the fine print of the promotion, which forbade “public distribution on sites where you are a contributor but not the primary content owner (e.g., Wikipedia, coupon websites).”

Once he was in touch with Business Insider for their story, of course, Uber was quick to reinstate $500, or 1 percent, of Jareds’s … earnings? Who really knows in this post-cash, Bitcoin-crazed economy. It’s almost as if the digitization of money has clued everyone into the fact that was staring them in the face this whole time: It’s a mass consensual illusion, prone to endless manipulation.

That is to say, currency’s always been virtual.

H/T Business Insider | Photo by Matteo Penzo/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)