Saturday, October 19, 2013

How To Help People You Suspect Are Being Scammed

There has been many questions by folks with friends and relatives who were into suspicious schemes. The victims are so cult-indoctrinated that nothing seem to work. What can be done, if one cannot afford cult deprogramming / exit interview? And what if the victim does NOT wish help?

First, a disclaimer. I'm not a psychologist, psychiatrist, or know anything about the mind, other than some critical thinking. The following stuff is UNTRIED, UNTESTED "common sense" sort of approach I would take if I were to approach someone in a similar predicament.

My approach is... asking questions, Socratic questions. But this is NOT a quick fix. Undoing the knot will take a lot of time, and a lot of questions. This is my personal idea, based on Socratic Questions (as explained in Skeptoid #384). I hope this is of use to people, and I welcome any feedback. Any way...

You will probably need an empty work area, preferably with a big table where you can spread stuff out, a computer to do research on various topics, and a big stack of index cards. Figure at least 100, if not 200 cards, and a few pens, different color (you use one color for questions, he uses another for answers). You will definitely need one big red marker in addition to other colored pens.

And finally, you will need several hours, with refreshments and snack breaks in between, but NO CELLPHONES. The idea is to get the victim AWAY from his/her upline's influence for a while.

And you will need a quick lesson in critical thinking, and understand what is a "null hypothesis". I suggest you research a bit of critical thinking on your own before you attempt this "intervention".  Null hypothesis is best described as unknown / indeterminate state. If the premise is "WooPlus cures cancer", the null hypothesis would be "we don't know whether WooPlus cures cancer or not". the ANTI-premise is "WooPlus does NOT cure cancer". Facts and Logic (evidence) are suppose to move you from null hypothesis toward the premise. When there's not enough evidence you're left with the null hypothesis, not the anti-premise. Yet many people mistake the critical thinking process into thinking that it's either the premise, or the anti-premise, with no null hypothesis.

In the future, I may publish some of the better questions to ask, though this is highly dependent on the individual subject.

NOTE: If you cannot finish this in one sitting, you may want to pick a smaller premise, like "WooPlus product is effective for _____" first. Or perhaps ask for help analyzing his answers, even online. Just don't let him consult upline (yet). If questioned, reply that you want to get to the facts, which are easily Googled, instead of relying on someone else's memory.

There are three general phases:
  • Engage and clarify premise with supporting evidence and logic
  • Identify ambiguities, assumptions, and logical fallacies
  • Re-examine premise with multiple perspectives

Before you start, you need to know how to keep them engaged instead of walking away. The way to convince someone to doubt is to have them adopt the doubt as their own, rather than force feeding them. You need to handle Questions about Questions.

Question about the Questions

If at any time the "victim" refuse to answer your Socratic questions, and/or question / attack you or the questions and/or analysis, with statements like:

A: Why are you asking me these questions?

A: You're just wasting my time!

A: I was warned there are people like you... Dream stealers!

You should respond with

B: Why do you think I'm asking these questions?  

B: Are these questions making sense? 

The idea is to make him/her understand these questions for for his/her own good. Slow him/her down, then follow up with

B: Don't you think these are important questions to ask?

Most victims who had been conditioned with ready replies should be flummoxed by that last question. Before they can think of a reply, ask a different question to keep them off balance.

You can also optionally follow up with:

B: How do you expect to sell / promote Acme XYZ if you don't REALLY know how it works?

B: Are you sure you have ALL the facts you need to make a proper decision?

B: Do you think nobody will ask you these questions, ever?  Better me asking you now, than some stranger, right?

These are rhetorical questions that should be asked, but set aside. Continue onto something else if you do encounter them.

The most dangerous answer you'll get is "I find someone who doesn't ask such questions."  Then your response is, "Why is that? Why don't you want to answer these questions? "

While it's not generally possible to anticipate every such question, the general idea is to cultivate a bit more curiosity and critical thinking instead of rote repetition.

Let's now start with phase one

Phase 1: Engage and Clarify

In this phase, you seek to identify their true position / intent / premise, and all the evidence they have to support their premise, be it assumptions, facts, logic, or fallacies. This is not the fact check phase. This is just to identify all their evidence. This is to make them lay all their cards on the table (and make sure nothing's hidden up a sleeve, to abuse the poker analogy).

You also need to have them identify the SOURCE of the information. Is it coming from the company website? Product brochure? Or just random speech from the upline? If there's a bunch of assumptions and they usually come from the upline, then you've planted the seed of doubt that perhaps the upline is not being entirely honest or knowledgeable.  If they don't know, put that down as "to be researched" (for phase 2)

Ask them the premise, the overall "theme". Write it down. Big red letters. Top card.

For a "business opportunity" such as MLM, it's probably "I can succeed with Acme XYZ".  Though you may want to start with a smaller premise, like "Acme XYZ product WooPlus is healthy".

Then you ask clarifying questions, one per card. Say it, and write it on the card. Let him answer out loud, then write it on the card (different color, but NOT red marker)

Clarifying questions would be similar to "What do you mean by 'succeed'?" "What is Acme XYZ?" "Is Acme XYZ a pyramid scheme or a legitimate network marketing business?"  "Who's the founder of Acme XYZ?"  Ask the usual who, when, what, how, why and such questions. Try to cut him down to one sentence answers. We don't want a whole sales speech.

Once you got the assertions, clarify, then seek their supporting evidence. WHY do you think _____ is true? Where the blank can be "Acme XYZ is legal"  "Acme XYZ will be profitable for me"  "Acme XYZ product WooPlus is good for _____" and so on. 

Repeat until you got all the details on the "facts" and "logic" that supports his premise(s). See following for help. 

Question to Clarify Statement

One of the most often used tactics by suspicious scheme participants is the moving goalpost. Thus, you need to pin them down early on, by asking questions and let them clarify what they mean

A: Acme XYZ will make me a lot of money!
B: What kind of business is Acme XYZ? What do you have to do? How much will you make? What are the chances?

A: I can succeed with Acme XYZ!
B: What are the current chances of success in Acme XYZ? How do you define success?

A: Acme XYZ is giving out car bonus!
B: What are the chances of getting that car bonus?  How does the car bonus work?

Question to Identify Logic and Facts

As you get them to identify their exact position, ask them to supply facts and logic to to support their position. Then have them restate the stuff. 

B: So you have to do ___, ___, and ___ to make money in Acme XYZ. Is that right? Did we miss anything?

B: So you're saying that because Lawyer ___ is involved with Acme XYZ, Acme XYZ had to be legal. Is that right?

B: So you're saying because Acme XYZ had revenue of 100 million last year, it cannot possibly be illegal. Is that right? 

If you do spot a fallacy, do NOT point it out yet. That's the next phase.  Have them commit their position to paper.

Once they think they have built up support for their premise, it's time to take it apart, much like playing Jenga, but gently, one little piece at a time.

Phase 2: Identify assumptions, ambiguities, falsehoods, and logical fallacies

Once we have identified all these alleged evidence (one per card, except the top card), it is time to re-examine them piece by piece and whether they really do belong together.

Start going through each piece of evidence they previously offered in support of their premise, statement of fact, logical deduction, and so on. Then perform fact-checking on them. You need to identify the assumptions (many of them masquerading as facts) from the answers.

Question to Identify Assumptions

There are two types of assumptions we are looking for... overt, and covert.

Overt assumptions are basically stated as facts, when they are actually UNsupported by facts or logic. They are simply assumed to be true. These are rather easy to find.

A: Acme XYZ is a legal and profitable business!
B: Is the legal part assumption or fact?
A: Uh... I don't know.
B: How about the profitable part?
A: I... don't know either.
B: Okay, you assumed. Let's continue...

If they gave a snap answer, ask them "Are you sure, or did you just assume that?"  Most of the time they should admit they simply assumed, though probably with long explanation on why they assumed so. Use separate cards and note the logic and "facts" used as if it's a premise to be proven. If they don't offer any, then it's clearly a question, mark it thus. 

Covert assumptions are a bit harder to find. They are implied, but not outright stated. You have to "read between the lines". Often these scheme participants are not even aware of the assumptions they had made when they are promoting the scheme. You need to ask them some questions to nail them down. 

A: It's easy to make money in Acme XYZ. Just sell 10 Acme XYZ Wooplus a month!
B: So you are assuming that you can make 10 sales a month, forever?

A: Acme XYZ has been around for 5 years and is profitable!
B: So you are assuming that Acme XYZ is a legal business?

A: I took Acme XYZ Wooplus and my ____ is much better now!
B: So you are assuming that Acme XYZ WooPlus is effective for _____?

The intent is to identify the source of the information, and separate facts from assumptions. Don't hit them too hard if they have an assumption. If they are a bit doubtful on the source, just go:

B: "So it seems you're not sure. Let's go onto something else..."

Get them to admit they don't have all the information. Just let them admit they assumed something, note it, with a big question mark with red marker on the card, and move on.

Fact-Check the "Facts"

Once you have tossed all the assumptions, start working on what remained of the "facts". You should have reduce that pile as many of them are assumptions. 

Facts have a source and can be verified. That's why we need that computer and Google or whatever. I have some help on how to identify "baloney" or "crap info" vs. real facts. 

If the "facts" turned out to be assumptions, or unverifiable, it's time to put a big question mark (?) on it. 

If the "facts" turned out to be false, put a big X on it and put them aside. However, give your companion benefit of doubt. If things are not outright refuted, use ? instead of X. 

Logic Check the "Logical Deductions"

Once you got the facts done, you need to work on the logic. And to do that, it is necessary to reduce the logic into the simple

(plus B )

One of the favorite "logic" evidence for legitimacy is celebrity, which generally goes like this

A: Celebrity X endorses Acme XYZ
B: Celebrity X is not stupid enough to endorse a scam  (can be implied)
C: Acme XYZ is not a scam

However, if written this way, it's immediately clear that "Celebrity X is not stupid enough to endorse a scam" is an ASSUMPTION, not fact. It may be a reasonable assumption, but it's still assumption, not fact.  And this is often one of those covert assumptions that is not immediately obvious. As B is often implied. 

You need to check each of the logic and identify whether the logic is actually based on FACTS, or assumptions. Clearly, logic cannot be based on assumptions. Any logical deduction based on assumptions is itself an assumption. Therefore, it deserves the big red question mark. 

You also need to check if the facts are indeed facts, or disproved previously. Else it's X for this as well. 

Survivors then have the logical deduction checked for logical fallacies. There are tons of fallacies, so I'll give you a few resources to classify them, but here's an example:

A: Acme XYZ is sold in 25 countries!
B: Acme XYZ is legitimate and not a scam! 

This is a combination of irrelevant evidence and bandwagon fallacy. 

Fallacy Resources:

Repeat the evaluation process until you have evaluated all of logical deduction to be valid or invalid. 

We are almost ready for Phase 3. 

Phase 3: Re-examine premise with multiple perspectives

First thing we need to do is clean up the deck of cards. Remove all of the X'ed cards, and put them into one pile.  Removed all of the ? cards and put them into another pile. 

Now go through each card and look for "related" cards that may have relied upon one another. If card A is supported by card B, and B turned out to be falsehood (X) or assumption (?) then A must be also falsehood or assumption (probably assumption). 

Go through the deck over and over until no cards are affected or changed. Now we can start. We now are left with cards that contain verified facts and sound logic, and probably very few of the cards remain. We now must reexamine the premise. 

Question to Identify Implications and Consequences

As you got their position nailed down, have them consider what is the logical extrapolation of their position is true, esp. if it is clearly... impossible. 

B: So you're saying that to earn money in Acme XYZ, I just need to post one ad per day on the Internet. But if that's true, why do they need us? They can hire cheap labor in Asia to post for even cheaper, right?

B: So you're saying this Acme XYZ WooAdditive will decrease ignition point of gasoline by several hundred degrees. You do realize that's room temperature, and thus, that means this is extremely DANGEROUS, right, if it really does what it says?

X these out, and continue review. This may force you to revisit Phase 2 to remove relevant "evidence".

Question to identify alternate viewpoints and perspectives

Often the situation is ambiguous enough that it supports multiple interpretations of the same logic and evidence. However, the "victim" will often see the same stuff only one way: in favor of their scheme. Try to have them imagine seeing the same facts, but from a different perspective, like completely fresh naive person (i.e. before they heard of this thing), but with the added advantage of having examined all the issues and identified all the assumptions and bad logic.

This usually should be left for last, after all the bits and pieces have been identified, and the assumptions swept aside. What's left of his position can then pointed out as very ambiguous, can lean either way. There's no need to make outrageous claims, like "Acme XYZ is an illegal pyramid scheme!" Just get them to admit that "I don't know Acme XYZ is legal or not", with an implied "What I thought made it legal does not actually do so."

Questions to Identify Source of Assumptions and Falsehoods

Once you have finished checking alternate perspectives, it's time to go over the X pile and the ? pile. Let's start with the falsehood pile (X's).

Hopefully each piece of info has a source, from company literature to upline's word to website and so on. As they are clearly contradicted by facts, they are completely false. Draw a 3x3 table, and tabulate each source of info
  • official company info
  • Upline and peer
  • other
Column 2 is falsehood, and column 3 is Questionable assumptions.

There may be a pattern. Often, it's the upline and the peers that are giving out bad info. Do NOT point this out. You need him/her to realize this by him/herself, that perhaps this upline CANNOT be relied upon as a source of good information. Or perhaps the company has lied, or upline is saying something that's NOT said by the company, and so on.

After perhaps a hour or two of research, hopefully you have arrived at a bunch of data, showing the truth regarding the "premise". Typical recruit should be shaken at how thin their supporting evidence is, and how much they've been told by upline is, well, unsupported assumptions and falsehoods.

Some reminders

NEVER be judgmental. You must NEVER say "I told you so."  You cannot act happy or sad as you find each piece of evidence, for or against. You're simply curious. You're trying to cultivate curiosity in place of blind obedience / brainwashing.

Never skew the evidence. If you find stuff that support their premise, count it. If s/he disagrees on the evidence's relevance, put a small question mark next to it to be gone over later. This is a journey of discovery, for both of you.

ALWAYS be supportive, esp. if it's about curiosity. In fact, let s/he determine which way to research. (I hope you really know how to use Google, though my articles on how to determine crap / baloney should help.)


I know this is terribly vague and not much of a guide, but I hope it helps somebody. If you read this, let me know how did it work for you, and if you have any suggestions on how to improve the process.

Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments:

Post a Comment