Saturday, November 24, 2012

Self Deception and Woo (and MLM)

Self-Deception is one of the most dangerous forces in the world... If you can lie to yourself, and convince yourself of it, then it's no longer a lie (to you, at last). After all, if you don't believe in yourself, who *can* you believe in? Thus, if you lie to yourself, i.e. practice self-deception, there is no telling what sort of harm you will do, not only to yourself, but to everybody around you.

Unfortunately, once you have convinced yourself of your own lie, it is very difficult for you to extricate yourself from it, because this means admitting to yourself (and everybody else around you) that you were wrong, and most of us just have way too much pride to do so.

Sometimes, the "sin" is merely promotion of "woo", such as those "magnetic bracelets" or some "super-duper-hyper juice" that is somehow good for everything under the sun (and moon, and stars). If you believe somehow that it works, and you bought it, then you will cheerfully say things like "ever since taking / using _____ I feel much more energized! Thanks! I would recommend this to anybody!" without considering whether you really really believe this stuff works, or simply because you WANT to believe it works.

It's one thing for you to use it, as the only thing it hurts is your wallet. It's another thing completely to actively sell it to others, and trying to convince them, the way you convinced yourself, that it works great.

And it's yet ANOTHER thing to convince them so you can pocket profit, either from they BUYING it, or further, from them SELLING it to other people.

All just because you *want* to believe it works, but you don't really have proof that it works. Later on, you *have* to believe it works, because you can't sell a product you don't believe in. You are now both emotionally AND financially involved. So, are you really selling the product, or your dream?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Bad Argument: Illusion of Cause

Ice Cream... causes polio?
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Our brain seeks to associate cause and effect, so we can recognize the pattern in the future and react accordingly. However, very often, our brain makes the wrong choice, by associating the effect with the wrong cause, or finding a cause where there is none. That is known to psychologists as "illusion of cause", and was popularized in the book 'The Invisible Gorilla".

Illusion of cause has many forms, many have long Latin names that I shall not attempt to repeat. I have even covered a few of them before as bad arguments. In no particular order (and probably incomplete list):
  • Correlation is not causation [Read more]
  • Spotting patterns when it's merely random distribution  [Read more]
  • Two things happened consecutively are not necessarily cause and effect
  • Attribution to God
Today the discussion will be on the two topics that weren't covered before. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving... But Scammers Do Not Rest, Neither Does Justice

It is now Thanksgiving Holiday in the US, and both the just and the scam are still working. There are two updates to keep in mind.

Pigeon King International fraud trial still ongoing

Dave "Scambusters Now" Thornton, has an update on Pigeon King Ponzi in Canada.

Dave Thronton was one of the earliest to raise the alarm about this ingenious (nefarious?) Ponzi scheme that literally used pigeons to trick farmers into buying million dollars in pigeons (and spending even more in facilities and equipment). This trial is still ongoing in Canada, and apparently the judge had issued a gag order so there's a media blackout on the trial. The actual trial likely won't reach Canadian court until early 2013.

[ Read Scam Study: Pigeon King here on A MLM Skeptic ]

Canadian report on this scam: the perp still insist he's innocent.

Zeek Rewards affiliate who profited filed response, called Receiver a criminal

The saga of Zeek Rewards Ponzi scheme continues. Despite months of promise that whoever's behind the Zeek Defense effort is going to sue SEC, and somehow clear Zeek's name, NOTHING has been filed other than names of two attorneys. Instead, someone else from Florida sent the judge on the case claiming receiver  misconduct. Basically, this guy (who's NOT an attorney), just accused an attorney of not knowing the law.

Hilarious, isn't it? Let's take a closer look.

Three Ways to Shut Down a Scam Pitched To You

Back in October 2012 Forbes published a short list of four tips where John Wasik, a frequent contributor, listed four ways to shut down an investment scam being pitched over the phone. (actual link at the end) They are:
  • Show me the your licensing info
  • Show me your firm's registration
  • Mail me the info as I don't conduct business over the phone
  • I need to have this reviewed by my accountant, lawyer, and financial adviser
This list concerns investments, because in investment industry, both the agents and the firms must be registered / licensed. In normal business, where the agents do not need to be licensed, you're left with just three things.

Do these three things then apply to regular scams, not merely investments? Very much so, but also some caveats as you need to know what's legal and what's not within the industry.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How do you know if you're dealing with woo or a real product?

Stem cells
Stem cells: where do they really come from?Does having more of them make you healthier? Can you make more of them? Miracle Pill says yes, yes, and yes!
(Photo credit: BWJones)
One problem with MLM is very often, it ends up selling woo, instead of stuff with proven scientific benefits. This problem is completely aside from the sometimes questionable business model of MLM itself.

Very often, the nutritional supplements use weasel words to sound as if they do something, when they don't. FDA is very strict on what a company can say about products that goes on or in the body, and one misstep can result in thousands of dollars in fines. One nutritional supplement company claims their product "supports your body's natural release of stem cells".

Wait, what does that mean?

It doesn't mean anything, because what they claim is not scientific fact. Their literature claims
Recent scientific developments have revealed that stem cells derived from the bone marrow, travel throughout the body, and act to support optimal organ and tissue function. Stem cell enhancers are products that support the natural role of adult stem cells
Is what they claimed true? Not really.

The US National Institute of Health, a Federal agency has a website on stem cells, it clearly says that scientists do NOT know somatic stem cells (i.e. adult stem cells) come from. Bone marrow produce blood cells and some derivative stem cells, but that has nothing to do with any other stem cells found in various tissues (at least no such relations have been observed).

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

You've Been Scammed On the Internet. Now What?

English: Image is similar, if not identical, t...
English: Image is similar, if not identical, to the San Francisco Police Department patch. Made with Photoshop. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Due to the distributed nature of the Internet, and often disguised nature of a scheme, it is often hard to know where you should complain to, if you have been scammed.

Often, the victims are to embarrassed to be victimized, they never speak up, thus allowing the scammer to scam even MORE victims.

Here's a short list of where you can complain. You're unlikely to get your money back, but you'll let people know and help them avoid the scam.

Sometimes, complaining to the local police, esp. when it is in a large city, may have some result. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Blind Men, Elephant, and MLM

Blind men and an elephant
Blind men and an elephant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Those of you in the West probably never heard of the Indian parable (which spread throughout the world, to Buddhism, Islam, and other religions) about "Blind men and the elephant". Here's the summary:

In various versions of the tale, a group of blind men (or men in the dark) touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part, but only one part, such as the side or the tusk. They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement.
The stories differ primarily in how the elephant's body parts are described, how violent the conflict becomes and how (or if) the conflict among the men and their perspectives is resolved.
In some versions, they stop talking, start listening and collaborate to "see" the full elephant. When a sighted man walks by and sees the entire elephant all at once, they also learn they are blind. While one's subjective experience is true, it may not be the totality of truth. If the sighted man was deaf, he would not hear the elephant bellow. Denying something you cannot perceive ends up becoming an argument for your limitations.
Cited from Wikipedia
When I see people "defending" their specific MLM, they often ended up doing the "blind men" routine, as they basically argue that the part that they saw, experienced, or researched, is good, while refusing to concede that other people's research about the parts that s/he did NOT research / experience can also be valid.

Just like the "blind men" in the story, the "defenders" argue that whatever they had perceived is the whole truth, when they only experienced ONE FACET of the whole thing.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

How to build a fake shipping company? Photoshop, of course

Apparently some Nigerians decided to start a shipping company and ask random people to pay money for "customs and fees" to claim a package of unknown origin. The shipping company does not exist, obviously, but its website does, filled with photos of ships, trucks, and planes... manipulated through Photoshop (tm) to add their logo. Here's one example:

People who know airplanes even a little would recognize this as a recent vintage Boeing 737 (though it could be the Airbus equivalent, as I'm not *that* good in spotting the difference). It is obviously a PASSENGER JET. In fact, you can see the windows all along the fuselage.


And why is the logo in the back so OBVIOUSLY Photoshop'ed (tm)? Logos should "curve" like the fuselage!