Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Scam Psychology: Bogus Science and Alternative Facts Redux

One of the ways scams and woo spread is by linking a famous person to it, never mind that famous person actually said the EXACT OPPOSITE.

Recently, there was a Twitter debate when someone rehashed the myth that "cancer cannot survive in an alkaline environment", and cited Dr. Otto Warburg, 1931 Nobel Laureate, and even claimed that's what he got the Nobel prize for.  But it wasn't.

This alkaline nonsense was thoroughly busted by Snopes back in 2016, as well as by practically every major medical news website and several hospitals and medical schools. To make a long story short, it's circular reasoning. Dr. Warburg actually discovered that cancer cells produce MORE lactic acid by using a different metabolism method than healthy cells. While a cancerous body is slightly acidic than normal, this is the effect of cancer, NOT THE CAUSE. And you can't force a body or blood to be acidic through diet (that means your kidneys have FAILED!). It's clear that whoever listened to this nonsense doesn't understand cause and effect. They think cancer -> acid, then anti-acid = anti-cancer. It doesn't work like that.  A caused B. B does not cause A.

But the way they try to validate their nonsense by citing Dr. Warburg via the false citing was the reason for this post. Falsely citing a celebrity is a common scam tactic, usually ignored by the company as that would imply they willingly violated state or Federal laws on False Endorsement and Right of Publicity Claims. In fact, some companies are known to have set up fake news pages claiming links between their products and actors and celebrities such as actor Will Farrell and celebrity chef Paula Dean.

Back in 2004 Actor Ray Liotta sued Nerium after some Nerium reps falsely claimed via Facebook posts that Mr. Liotta's facial complexion improved due to the use of their products. The case was later settled out of court. But this hardly stopped other overeager reps from claiming things that have no basis in science or fact.

One of the more recent victims of false endorsement was Malaysia sprinter Watson Myambek. In November 2018, someone was spreading claims on Facebook that Nyambek is a Bitcoin millionaire to promote some sort of crypto-scam. He categorically denied such allegations and said he will file a report with police and want the lying culprit found.

The point is unless you can trust the source, like a reputable newspaper article, you should NOT believe anything you read on Facebook and similar social media platforms.






Monday, November 19, 2018

Evil MLM: Revisionist History, Juice Plus Edition

Remember in the book 1984 by George Orwell, the government rewrites history when the policies change? "We've always been at war with Eastasia"? Turns out, MLM participants does that every day.

Just the other day, someone posted this to reddit's /antimlm subreddit


I have nothing to say about Bear Grylls. I do have something to say about the revisionist history though.

Notice where it says "juice plus has been tested and trialed for the past 40 years"?

That's impossible. Juice Plus didn't exist until 1993. This is from their own homepage:
All Juice Plus+ products share a common nutritional philosophy that traces back to our beginnings in 1993
Before 1993, Juice Plus sold water filters, air purifiers, and smoke alarms under the name "National Safety Associates" as an MLM. They swapped companies names in 1993 and changed focus entirely. It's a brand new company, but they kept the leadership, so they can kinda keep claiming they were founded almost 50 years ago (in 1970 under a different name).

I am NOT going to get into the bogosity of "juice plus cure my cancer" stories on Youtube. I'll just refer you to the article written by a real retired MD

Monday, November 5, 2018

British Columbia (Canada) Chiropractic Org Crack Down on Spurious Claims by Members, How About US?

You will often find that chiropractors claim to be able to treat everything from ADHD and Alzheimers to diabetes, infertility, all the way to Down's syndrome, and they are all over websites, blogs, and social media postings. There is absolutely ZERO evidence chiropractic can treat those afflictions. It seems one professional organization is finally doing something about these unsupported claims... and it's a chiropractic organization.

College of Chiropractors of British Columbia (Canada) has warned all members from making efficacy claims in its latest policy clarification, mandated any claims to be removed ASAP, and the deadline passed three days ago (on 01-NOV-2018).

What is also interesting is BC Chiropractors are NOT allowed to give public opinions about vaccination (for or against) as chiropractors are NOT trained in infectious diseases. Yet it didn't stop some chiropractors, including two BC College of Chiropractors board members, from taking an antivax stance on social media. Both promptly deleted their antivax post after being reminded of the college policy. And one vice-chair has resigned after posting a video claiming a smoothie is more effective than a flu shot at preventing flu.

So where are such regulations or policies in the US?

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

MLM Genre Analysis: CBD products have HUGE risks not understood by participants

Some of the more recent MLMs have latched onto CBD, or cannabidiol as their next big thing, and several companies have started selling products based on CBD oil for topical and other uses. However, what those people failed to consider is CBD is NOT legal in all 50 states. That's right, holding CBD oil in certain states can get you arrested for drug possession, which can RUIN YOUR LIFE!

Fact: DEA considers CBD oil as a schedule I controlled substance, with ONE exception


DEA considers CBD oil "marijuana extract" and remains on schedule I (same as cocaine and heroin). DEA has allowed a specific formulation, containing less than 0.1% THC, and approved by the FDA, to be reclassified Schedule V. This happened in October 2018.

This is often misquoted by CBD advocates as "DEA legalized CBD" when nothing of the sort took place.

With that said, DEA has bigger fish to fry, like the opioid epidemic. But it's illegal. And if your state law enforcement wants to bust you, it can, as a man in Indiana found out. He was arrested for possessing CBD oil and prosecutors chose not to charge him because the state legislature made CBD legal AFTER his arrest.


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

You should NEVER send ANY verification code you received to ANYONE ELSE. Verification codes are for you the recipient, and you ONLY. It verifies to the system that it is YOU who send the request. By giving the code to someone else, you just gave AWAY a part of your online identity... and worse.

With that said, here's how one way a verification code scam can work:

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 what.

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

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

YOU: Yes it is.

Scammer: 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) or a phone number. It may or may not be in English.  It does contain a verification 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. You will be unable to register for any new accounts on (X) 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. And in the future, should you want to register on Criagslist, you may be blocked from doing so.

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

ref: https://www.kaspersky.com/blog/dont-send-codes/22448/

NOTE: Edited 11-DEC-2018 for wording and link to Kaspersky blog entry