Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Scam Psychology: Engaging Antivaxxers: What I learned from them vs. Scheme Denialists

Recently, I engaged a couple antivaxxers on Twitter. It was a learning experience. One just wants to talk about his conspiracy theory (There is no reason for the government to care about your health!)   (Uh, what about taxes?)  while the other ONLY want to talk about the harm done by vaccines and ignore all the good it did (Let's talk about how many children the original Salk vaccine harmed...)

Let's be absolutely clear here: Yes, the original Salk vaccine did sicken 200 children and killed 10, but it also saved about 15000 (or even 20000) children from paralysis THAT YEAR ALONE!  Go ahead, Google that yourself. A vaccine that saved 98.6+% of the children (210/15000) from a crippling disease such as polio was a success, NOT a failure!

But the anti-vaxxers only want to talk about the children that were harmed, not the 14000+ children saved that year from paralysis. They are NOT interested in seeing the whole picture.

I am not going to provide a blow-by-blow of my encounter. I'll just say that as predicted, they engaged in multiple goal-post shifting (trying to shift the topic), citing bogus experts (Mercola), claiming conspiracy theory and Galileo gambit (Wakefield and Sears), outright refuting facts ("measles is not dangerous"), name-calling ("Where are the honest provaxers?") then concluded with pigeon chess mixed with conspiracy theory ("You are stifling dissent, but you can't suppress the truth forever! ")

And this is the virtually identical pattern to the financial denialists I've engaged before. Except they want to somehow prove their pyramid or Ponzi schemes are legitimate money-making enterprises. Which pretty much proves that more than a few scammers are "financial denialists".


Sunday, July 22, 2018

How to Combat Falsehoods: It's NOT a matter of opinion or being neutral!

As a skeptic, it is often troubling to see the amount of bogosity available in public, much less the Internet, where anyone with some free time can offer advice, and many people just eat them up, with absolutely zero due diligence about the veracity of the information received. It doesn't help when social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and so on help (inadvertently) spread the misinformation.

Recently, a post on Slate documented how the subreddit /r/askHistorians struggle to control the deliberate misinformation campaign by Holocaust deniers, and how social media, afraid of lawsuits, basically left them to say ANYTHING they wanted. Fortunately, that subreddit has a crew of volunteer moderators that use the banhammer when it was called for.

And what they found about Holocaust deniers applies to ALL sorts of deniers, such as antivaxxers, pyramid scheme and ponzi scheme proponents, and so on. You should go read the article yourself, as I will only be discussing their findings.  Deniers generally use these tactics:

1) Cite bogus experts who are proven to have ignored facts that did not fit their narrative, or experts who had nothing to do with their field, but merely sympathetic to their field.

Holocaust deniers cite David Irving and Fred Leuchter

Antivaxxers cite Andrew Wakefield, Bob Sears, and Mercola.

Scam proponents cite their own leader(s) or uplines

2) Cite minor mistakes in citings and frame it as "Just Asking Questions"

Otherwise known as "JAQing off", this technique requires a lot of effort to dispell since there are an infinite amount of details they can focus on while sounding earnest, usually by leaving out the context of the question.

Holocaust deniers deny fundamental facts about the Holocaust, such as the number of deaths, whether Nazis have a campaign of extermination, and so on.

Antivaxxers are well known to deny that vaccines work at all, whether vaccines have eradicated most infectious diseases, and even deny that some infectious diseases are deadly.

Scam proponents are well known to deny their scheme is a scam, often even AFTER the scam had been shut down by authorities. They will often deny pyramid scheme by obfuscating-conflating it with "pyramid organization".

Attempting to engage them by doing the research does not appease them, but instead, waste a TON of time. They are NOT interested in the facts. Their questions, seemingly innocent, casts doubt on the facts: "if they didn't get this 100% right, what else did they get wrong?"

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Anatomy of a Scam: How "Verification Code" Scam Works

If you post anything for sale on Craigslist, you can be unwittingly enlisted by a scammer to be an accomplice, even if you don't accept the offer.

The scam usually goes like this.

A) You list something for sale on Craigslist. It doesn't matter for what.

B) You get a text reply, that goes roughly like this:

X: I want to buy (insert product name). Is it still available?

YOU: Yes it is.

X: I sent you a verification code from (X). Prove to me you are real by sending me the code.

(X) can be Google, Yahoo, Craigslist, Microsoft, etc.

C) A few moments later, you get a text message from a "short code" (4-6 digits only, not a phone number), it may or may not be in English.  It does contain a code.

At this point, you should cut contact with the scammer. 

The scammer is registering a new account on (X). However, instead of entering their own phone number for verification, they entered YOUR phone number instead. Thus, (X) is verifying that the request came from you. (Not the scammer)

If you give scammer the code, you have linked YOUR phone number to scammer's account. You also enabled them to get an account they shouldn't be able to otherwise.

This has various consequences when the scammer's account is eventually banned for scamming. Usually, it means you will be unable to register for any new accounts. using that phone number. In the worst case, police may track you down instead. And you will have a hard time explaining why is your phone number used to register a scam account.

The effect of this differs by service.

On Craigslist, the scammer can now post ads for 90 days without further verification.

On Google, this can enable them to obtain a Google Voice number (for phone calls and text) and Gmail address. 

For Yahoo and other email services, this allows their registration to go through.

So don't fall for this scam within a scam. 

ref: https://www.techwalla.com/articles/what-is-a-craigslist-secret-code


Friday, June 8, 2018

Scam Spotting: Anatomy of a "free" premium headphones offer

Ever seen those offers: we're giving away (insert item) as a promotion, all you need to do is pay shipping and handling?

Let's dissect one and see how it really works.

Recently, someone brought this to reddit.com/r/scams attention. In the interest of NOT giving them any link juice, all names will be redacted, but you can easily figure it out.  Here's a screenshot of the top of their giveaway page.


They claim to be giving away all sorts of headsets and headphones for FREE. The catch is you'll need to pay about $13USD per item for shipping and handling.


However, are these headphones REALLY worth as much as they say? The answer is no. NOT EVEN CLOSE. Let's take that first headphone for example. They said "save $80", implying MSRP is $80.

Well, let's do a bit of digging via Google image search, and we got a $3 headset:


Oh, myyyyy. It's the EXACT SAME headset. For $2.99 with free shipping.  These headphones are NOT worth $80. They're not even worth $8. It's worth $3.00

Now you see why they are charging $13. For every order, they pocket $10, while making people believe they are getting something for cheap.

Let's pick another item, just to make a point.


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Bad Propaganda: Meghan Markle and Homeopathy, really?

A tweet from Alberta Association of Naturopathic Doctors just came across my tweetstream:


Uh, even that statement is wrong on many levels.

  • It's Sussex, not Essex
  • She's a duchess, not a princess. 
But third, did no one ask the circumstances of this picture? Turns out, this is a "gifting suite", circa 2012. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

How will the California Supreme Court "Dynamex" decision affect MLM?


When California Supreme Court handed down the Dynamex decision on May 4th, 2018, people wonder if the "gig economy" is doomed, as the decision is likely to affect Uber and Lyft drivers, and potentially all gig economy participants. But here's a question so far that had not been addressed: how will this affect multi-level marketing aka "MLM"?

In issuing the decision, CSC also handed down a new "ABC test" to see if the work should be classified truly as an independent contractor. To be classified as such, the worker needs to satisfy ALL THREE criteria below:

  • (A) that the worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact
  • (B) that the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business
  • (C) that the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed.

Does MLM pass the test? This is important because ALL MLM classify their participants as independent contractors (except for their corporate staff). They may get glorified names like "consultants", "Independent business owners", "brand ambassadors", and so on, but they are independent contractors because they get a 1099 and the end of the year.

But is joining an MLM really as an independent contractor...or as an employee?

Question A: is working in MLM actually free from control and direction of the hiring entity, both in performance and in fact?

This is going to be hard to answer, as it's NOT possible to say definitely either way. Many MLMs have LONG bylaws and joining agreements, including how you can dress and present the company image. (Mary Kay is infamous for its "no pants rule", really, look it up)

Question B: is working in MLM actually performing work that is outside the usual course of hiring entity's business?

This should be a definite "yes". MLMs typically have ZERO sales/promotional department. They may have a sponsorship department buying sponsorships and PR but no "sales force" per se.

Question C: is working for MLM something that the worker already does as an established trade, occupation, or such?

This is a "very likely no". Most people join MLM with zero experience (indeed, this is one of the mantras of MLM, "no experience needed, work as much or as little as you like")  Indeed, MLMs often specifically seek out housewives and students with ZERO work experience.

If MLM companies are forced to reclassify much of their associates as employees, this would be the end of multi-level marketing (as we know it).   And based on the ABC test presented, there is no reason why vast majority of MLMs will not be forced to do so.

And it may not be a bad thing.


Bad Propaganda: MLM trying cheap photoshop tricks on its gullible members? Or just rogue member?

Spotted this over in /r/antimlm:


Apparently someone took the photo fo Meghan Markle at her baptism a while back, photoshopped (tm) a cheap Herbalife plastic bottle into her hands (while she's walking past a ton of well-wishers, COMPLETELY inappropriate to be holding a shake bottle!) and claimed this is "proof" that Meghan Markle is an Herbalife customer.

Don't care who created the fake, but the way some people believe this **** without any verification "it's official!!!!!"  is just cringe-worthy. Are they in a cult or a business? 

But that's hardly the end of the story. Instead of an apology for spreading fake news, the spreader of fake news has since blocked the person who told her it's fake news. You can see the angry retort when the person was corrected.

Tsk, tsk. And they are lamenting WHY are they shunned in public...

It is because of stupid behavior like this: making up **** trying to score a few more sales by claiming bogus endorsements.

They really have no one to blame but themselves, but they don't see it that way. They live in their own echo chamber believing their own lies.

And they think they are better than the rest, blabbing about financial independence, empowerment, and blah blah blah.

They are in the Matrix, and they don't see it.