Friday, September 9, 2016

Scam Psychology: Cognitive Biases that leads to bad money decisions

Recently Lifehacker posted an article about cognitive biases that lead to bad money decisions. They are, obviously, perfect described the mindset of an MLMer.  Indeed, MLMskeptic here has covered most of them.

Sunk-Cost Fallacy -- if you have put money and effort in, you would not want to give up. This is also related to "Ikea Effect".

Choice-Supportive Bias -- also known as post-hoc rationalization, you made an impulsive decision NOT supported by logic, and later you tried to come up with reasons why you made that impulsive decision.  You will even rewrite your history and memory to somehow "prove" that you made the right decisions.

Anchoring Bias -- you rely too heavily on the FIRST piece of information and let that information affect your subsequent decisions, even of that first info is outrageous or wrong. Even when you are shown proof that the initial information is wrong, you fail to correct yourself and your thought process.

Bandwagon Effect -- "everybody else did it" somehow proves that it's logical, even when scams can have millions of victims. Popularity does not prove veracity or truth.

Status Quo Bias -- If you prefer the things the way they are, even though it's bad for you, you're definitely affected. Scam victims often refuse to take action to protect themselves because they believe they cannot be in a scam, and they want to "wait things out" even as the scam continue to take their money and provide one excuse after another.

But go read that article.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Cognitive Bias: Sunk Cost Fallacy

Answer this following question to yourself, truthfully please. Remember, it's for you and you alone. Only you would know the answer.

Q: Do you make rational decisions based on the best-estimate future value of objects, investments, and experience? 

Your answer to yourself is probably going to be: Yes, of course.

You are wrong. In reality, your decisions are based on your EMOTIONAL investment you already made and accumulated, and the more you invest, the less likely you can let it go. 

This is a cognitive bias known as "sunk cost fallacy".  In short, you are basing your decision on what has been invested, rather than what it's worth NOW (or in the future).

And it's very simple to make you feel you've invested time and effort... by making you do trivial tasks that amounts of zero importance. Zookeepers (and pet owners) know this principle well... it's called "contra-freeloading".

Contrafreeloading is a term coined in 1963 by animal psychologist Glen Jensen, who created an experiment where 200 albino rats were given a choice: unlimited food pellets in little bowl, or a mechanism where they have to learn to press a lever to release a food pellet. Logically, rats should simply gorge on the effortless food and never touch the lever. However, the opposite happened... rats actually prefer the food source where they had to press a lever, by a large margin. This was since repeated in gerbils, mice, birds, fish, monkeys, chimps... and more. (The only exception is the domestic cat). In short, animals prefer doing a little work (but not too much) for their food, rather than just take a handout.

A great example of contra-freeloading in a scam is ZeekRewards ponzi scheme (as accused by SEC and USSS), an $850 million scheme will soon go to trial. In ZeekRewards, one supposedly buy bids in the Zeekler penny auction, give away the bids to random strangers as promotion, and gets rewarded with certain amount of daily profit based on the bids purchased for the next 90 days. One also needs to post ads to random places on the Internet, and then post the URL on the ZeekRewards website as "verification" to be rewarded. In reality the vast majority of the bids were never used (i.e. the participants simply put money into the system) and expect daily "profit share" of up to 1.8% of the money they put in. The daily posting of ads were never tracked and verified, and indeed some people started a blog just to post ads... that nobody will ever read or see. It's rather obvious, in hindsight, that the "posting the ad" must be contrafreeloading... to make the participant feel they "worked" for and "earned" their share of "profit" amounting to as high as 1.8% DAILY, when the trivial task can literally be done in a few minutes, and be outsourced to some kids for pennies a day.

Yet when all these facts were pointed out to the ZeekRewards affiliates, their answers often are "you work for a competitor", "you work for the 1% to oppress us", "why don't you want us to succeed", and so on. After Zeek was shut down, several members even outright claimed "there were no victims until the government came along."

Curt Miller, on FB, soon after Zeek was closed by USSS and SEC, claiming that
"there were no victims (in ZeekRewards) until the government came along". 

They are so emotionally (and financially) invested into ZeekRewards, they can longer think rationally and see reason, even when there is NO REASON to continue to behave irrationally.

It is illogical to continue to support an alleged scam AFTER the owner made a plea deal with the government. However, hundreds of people donated money to a organization that promised to put the money toward "defending" ZeekRewards from the SEC. The owner of such organization was later jailed for defrauding the US government in an unrelated matter. The so-called defense ended up being an attorney who attended the receivership meetings, and filed several motions that was denied. He accomplished nothing useful except delay the process for the rest of the victims, and it was widely rumored (but never confirmed) that the rest of the money went to the organizer's private plane's upkeep.

They are the embodiment of sunk cost fallacy.