Archive for the ‘Cheating’ Category

Service of Research

Thursday, November 7th, 2019

Photo: stemcell.com

I admire researchers for so many reasons. It can take decades for them to make a discovery and years more to prove it. Diligence, the ability to fight frustration and dissent are just three characteristics of this valiant group.

I was distressed to read Noam Cohen’s New York Times article, “M.I.T. Shuts Down ‘Food Computer’ Project” about the world-renowned research citadel. The allegedly promising venture–The Open Agricultural Initiative [OpenAg]–involved greenhouses, called food computers, designed for crops that grow in air–without soil or sunlight. In addition to those in food computers at the university there were larger greenhouses in shipping containers in Middletown, Mass.

M.I.T. Media Lab. Photo: news.mit.edu

Cohen wrote: “The once-celebrated M.I.T. Media Lab micro-greenhouses were supposed to grow food under virtually any conditions. In the end, they worked under almost none. And now, M.I.T. has turned off the lights, possibly for good.”

He added “The project has been accused of misleading sponsors and the public by exaggerating results while the Media Lab has been under scrutiny for its financial ties to the convicted sex offender and financier Jeffrey Epstein.”

The director of the OpenAg program, Caleb Harper, posted images and videos on social media “that looked like experiments” and exaggerated or made false claims. Former researchers said he bought plants and put them in the “food computers” pretending they’d grown there. They said that data would have “little scientific significance” because they could not “control the conditions within the boxes.”

The Middletown containers were closed down recently because they dumped wastewater “with 20 times the legal limit of nitrogen underground.”

M.I.T. Photo: news.mit.edu

According to Cohen, Harper boasted that food computers he’d sent Syrian refugees in camps gave them “the means to grow their own food inside the camp.” Instead, these computers ended up “in a Jordanian research lab where they faltered because of hot, dry conditions and technical failures.”

The project attracted $millions in sponsorship funds and heaps of positive publicity including the likes of “60 Minutes” and a TED Talk.  I wager it received the acclaim and financial support based on its affiliation with M.I.T. Such shenanigans can’t help the university’s reputation and I wonder who minds the store in such institutions to prevent this kind of tempting fabrication from happening more often.

Photo: twitter.com

 

Service of a Cheating Heart: Match in Dutch with the FTC

Monday, September 30th, 2019

Photo: quora.com

I had a crush on a boy in 11th grade. One of the girls I thought was a friend told me he’d asked about me when it turned out she’d made it up. I never trusted her after that [and clearly I never forgot]. The takeaway: Don’t fool around in matters of the heart if you want to keep a friend.

Match.com executives, adults I assume, never learned that lesson if the Federal Trade Commission [FTC] is on to something.

Photo: medium.com

Dave Sebastian wrote “FTC Sues Match for Allegedly Tricking Users With Fake Ads– Online-dating platform allegedly offered certain guarantees but failed to provide promised services” in The Wall Street Journal.

The most damming allegation in the article was far worse than scamming people to join up and not giving them an easy way out. Match.com dangled hope to the lovelorn when there was none. “Until May 2018, Match sent emails to nonsubscribers that said someone had expressed interest in them, according to the FTC. But consumers, many of whom ended up purchasing the subscriptions, were unaware that the emails received could be from scammers, the FTC said in its complaint.”

Photo redbubble.com

And then Sebastian added: “The FTC said Match found that nearly 500,000 subscriptions were purchased within 24 hours of receiving an advertisement touting fraudulent communication between June 2016 and May 2018.”

Sebastian quoted the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, Andrew Smith who told him: “We believe that Match.com conned people into paying for subscriptions via messages the company knew were from scammers. Online dating services obviously shouldn’t be using romance scammers as a way to fatten their bottom line.’ ”

Match owns Tinder, Hinge, OkCupid and other dating sites. I know people who have made magnificent matches via online dating services and am heartbroken to read that the mother company felt it had to cheat. If I’ve been to two weddings of couples who met this way and know several others with longtime relationships, didn’t a successful pioneer in this business have enough case histories to promote its services legitimately?

Have you tried an online dating service? Did it work out for you? If you never have, does knowing this make you be less likely to give it a try? Does it bother you that one of the top services cheated to get customers or is it par for the course for all businesses these days and worthy of no more than a big shrug?

Photo: familytree.com

Service of Who Are Students Cheating–Themselves or Future Employers &/or Customers?

Monday, August 26th, 2019

Photo: businessinsider.com

I’ve written previously about high school and college students paid to take tests for others and ghost writers who draft college and grad student papers for a fee. A newer twist to student cheating is brought to us via the web: hundreds of sites claim to offer tutoring but actually sell offers to complete assignments with original work.

According to Tawnell D. Hobbs in The Wall Street Journal, “As the school year starts off, colleges and high schools are increasing steps to spot and fight a persistent form of cheating in which students find someone online to do their homework.”

The paltry and lackluster solutions offered in the article don’t portend much success. And it sure has taken schools a long time to wake up. One participant in the article said he’d worked for the cheating websites for a decade and he stopped eight years ago.

Because they won’t want to pay for multiple drafts, posits Hobbs, some high school teachers require multiple drafts thinking that some “aren’t likely to pay someone” for more than one. This doesn’t sound like an effective preventative to me–how much does it cost to copy a few pages?

Other teachers have students increase the work they do in class. Fine, but this solution doesn’t address cheating on homework.

Some public school districts, such as Wake County’s in Cary, N.C. have upped the punishment–the severest being suspension.

Hobbs reported that students should expect to pay from $15 to a few hundred dollars for their homework assignments. One fixer out of Tulsa charges on average $20-$30 for math, chemistry and physics. The person was so bold as to be interviewed by this prominent reporter and allow his name to be published. I’ve deliberately not mentioned his name.

Another participant in the article said that for 10 years and until 2011 he earned $60,000/year working for the cheating websites. “’I would take students through entire semesters. Once they’ve used your words,’ it’s hard for them to start turning in their own work without getting caught, he said.”

Photo: marketbusinessnews.com

Tricia Bertram Gallant, director of the Academic Integrity Office at the University of California—San Diego told Hobbs “We as a society have let this get out of control. We’ve reached a new level when people are willing to admit they do this for a living.”

Hobbs reported that “a Wall Street Journal review of 100 websites offering tutoring help or writing services, or both, found they promise custom high-school and college work. Some websites offer to run work through anti-plagiarism programs to prove it is original.”

Students are also bold to admit that they cheat!

According to Hobbs student gripes with the websites include missed deadlines or poor work “according to complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau and online reviews.”

Will I need to wonder if my appendix or other body part is being removed or repaired by a doctor who, in med school, paid someone to complete that particular procedure’s homework? What happens to these students when they get a job–can they perform? Does the cheating ever stop? Were you an instructor would you implement pop quizzes so as to compare the quality of work with what you received in homework assignments? Is there a solution with teeth?

Photo: eastlakecv.com

 

Service of Losing to Win Time: Do Kids Benefit?

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

 

Photo: atlantaparent.com

Five years ago I wrote about toys and board games “light,” called “snack toys” by the industry because they are rigged to take less time for parents to play with their children than traditional Monopoly, Parcheesi and other games. Time continues to be a premium along with patience.

Today some parents cheat so their kids will win quickly or turn to technology to accelerate the process. Greg Bensinger wrote in The Wall Street Journal that parents “are palming cards, strategically adding pieces when the children aren’t looking and sometimes outright lying. Not without irony, some parents have used technology to make games go faster.”

In “Parents Rig Board Games To Lose Faster,” Bensinger reported that “Sales of games and puzzles in the U.S. grew 27% between 2015 and last year, hitting $2.09 billion, according to NPD Group Inc., far outpacing sales growth for all toys.”

Photo: poki.com

Data analyst Ethan Markowitz’s son can’t get enough of Chutes and Ladders. He “says there are nine ladders and 10 chutes, ‘which means a bias toward losing.’ So he programmed a simulation of 10,000 two-player games, which showed the dreariness could last as many as 146 turns. His solution was to tape a new ladder to the board between space 47 and 72. That lowered the longest game to 110 moves.”

Another father, Barry Wise, president of a data analytics company, “suggests eliminating the longest chute, spanning square 87 to 24.” He “ran his own simulations of the popular games 200,000 times.” Wise recommends “avoiding Candy Land, with its 3.4% chance of running longer than 75 moves (compared with 0.76% for Chutes and Ladders), or eliminating the rule of sending pieces backward.”

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

One mother in the article hesitates to let her daughter win all the time as it doesn’t prepare her for life, though she admits to “miscounting spaces” to her daughter’s advantage to get the game to end sooner. Another told her teenage kids that she’d cheated when they were small, hiding the best cards and giving them to each during the game. She resorted to this because otherwise the “one quick game before bed” lasted endlessly so she felt forced to find a shortcut. Her kids don’t let her forget it.

“Hasbro Inc. plans this June to release a Cheaters Edition of Monopoly….The new edition will reward players who can, say, move a rival’s piece without notice or collect rent for an opponent’s property.” The impetus for this version wrote the reporter: More than half of respondents to a survey admitted to cheating at the game.

According to Bensinger, Candy Land “stands apart as the patron saint of board-game monotony.” Hasbro encourages people to change the rules as they see fit.

When you were a kid, what were your favorite games? Did you play mostly with your parents, siblings or friends? Do you think adults have always cheated to end games faster or to let a child win? Did you cheat when playing with kids? Do you think you should always let a kid win or only sometimes? Are you surprised at the resurgence of popularity of traditional games?

Photo: pinterest.com

Service of Going Too Far: L.L. Bean Puts its Boot Down

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

Some customers take advantage of businesses—we’ve all seen the type and I’ve written about this before. I have 32 posts under “cheating,” though admittedly in most cases, the swindler was a company.

Photo: firewireblog.com

An e-letter to consumers signed by L.L. Bean’s executive chairman, Shawn O. Gorman, has put the brakes on some of the nonsense. He wrote: “a small, but growing number of customers has been interpreting our guarantee well beyond its original intent. Some view it as a lifetime product replacement program, expecting refunds for heavily worn products used over many years. Others seek refunds for products that have been purchased through third parties, such as at yard sales.”

I don’t know if Brooks Brothers still has its policy but I knew a successful PR man in the day who wore a necktie for a few years and returned it, no questions asked, leaving the store with a new one. There was nothing wrong with the tie. He simply wanted a new one.

According to the new L.L. Bean policy, you’ll have one year to return an item which must be accompanied by proof of purchase. If a product is defective, they’ll work with you “to reach a fair solution.” The letter included a link to the full return policy, at llbean.com.

The letter ended: “Thank you for being a loyal customer and we look forward to continuing to inspire and enable you to Be an Outsider.”

Do you know what Gorman’s reference to “Be an Outsider” means? Do you agree with the step Mr. Gorman took? Can you blame him? Do you wonder why it has taken so long? Don’t most stores have a similar policy?

 

Service of Pushing the Envelope: What Does it Take for a Bank to Get the Message?

Monday, December 4th, 2017

Photo: whats-thesayinganswers.com

Parents expect their kids to test them daily but is it natural for a bank, caught red-handed in one scandal, to again test a federal regulator with another cheat just a year later? I’m referring to Wells Fargo, once a stalwart bank with stellar reputation and the third largest in the US.

Last year staff, to gain bonuses, created as many as 3.5 million accounts, some fictitious, others without customer approval. In addition to the chink in its standing, this cost the bank a $35 million penalty, restitution to some customers and a freeze on executive golden parachutes. Plus the chairman was forced to resign.

What now? “A federal regulator has advised Wells Fargo & Co.’s board of directors that it is weighing a formal enforcement action against the bank over improprieties in its auto-insurance and mortgage operations,” according to Gretchen Morgenson and Emily Glazer in their Wall Street Journal article, “Wells Fargo Gets New Warning.” The regulator is the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency [OCC].

Photo: dialforloan.com

The reporters wrote: “This summer, the bank conceded in a news release that for years it had forced nearly 600,000 customers who financed their car purchases with Wells Fargo to pay for collision coverage they didn’t need. The bank said about 20,000 customers had their cars wrongly repossessed. Those customers failed to pay the improper insurance charges.”

Photo: fhmtg.com

In addition they reported: “The bank has also said it charged some customers improper fees to extend the interest-rate commitments they received from Wells Fargo on their mortgage applications. In October the bank said it is reaching out to around 110,000 customers who paid a total of $98 million in such fees, and expects refunds to be lower than that total because, the bank said, it ‘believes a substantial number of those fees were appropriately charged under its policy.’”

The OCC “gave the bank credit for identifying the irregularities in its insurance operations but characterized Wells Fargo’s management of compliance risk as ‘weak.’ The report also said the bank had underestimated the amount of restitution it owed to wronged customers.”

Does today’s business atmosphere, inspired by Washington, give signals to businesses to push the envelope and hope for the best? Recent indicators include loosening of climate regulations, and the appointment by the president of Mick Mulvaney as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau when Mulvaney doesn’t believe in restrictions. Do the small fries in this country feel sufficiently threatened yet? Why would a bank allow its reputation to take such a beating?

Photo: cardtrak.com

 

Service of Debt Collection

Monday, September 14th, 2015

where's my money

I read this on a Facebook posting on September 10: If you write for _______, please beware. I filed my invoice on June 1 and still have not been paid. The editor gave me the wrong info on who to send my invoice to–twice! I’ve sent numerous emails and it’s been so time consuming trying to collect my money.

“I got a few emails from their accounts payable dept. saying all my info was in and I should be getting a check soon. Today, I checked on it and was told that they do not have all of my paperwork. I finally heard back from the editor and she said, ‘I really hope you won’t tell people not to write for us because of $300.’ I’m not telling you not to write for them. I just–at this point–really dislike them. I just want you to beware.

Social mediaWriting about this kind of exploitation infuriates me as do people who either play games, working the float on small fry suppliers making them wait for months or worse—ordering work they know they can’t/won’t/don’t plan to pay for.

I’ve written before about a writer friend who was stiffed a fee in the middle five figures by people she knew in an industry in which she was well known, causing such havoc on her finances that she had to move precipitately to another/less expensive city where she didn’t know a soul. The company was going bankrupt and the owners took advantage of her. This was years ago and I still want to take a shower when I think of them.

I knew a flim-flamer who told a graphic designer he worked with for years, “You designed those logos on spec,” when nothing of the kind had been said. Contracts don’t protect you: They cost too much in time and/or lawyer’s fees to defend in court. I’ve not been immune nor have other honorable, hardworking colleagues in PR who provided topnotch counsel, creativity and results.

The typical victim is not too big to fail so who cares?

I used to see typed or handwritten names of people on bits of paper taped to grocery store cash registers representing customers whose checks the cashier was forbidden to accept. Because the honor system doesn’t work so well, instituting a similar online virtual list, by industry, of individuals and companies who have swindled others wouldn’t be viable. People who disliked or were jealous of someone could add a name that shouldn’t belong and anyway, nobody is guilty here without a trial.

taking candy from a babyWhat’s the difference between these perpetrators and youngsters who mug the elderly or adults who abuse children?

What do you think about resorting to social media to accelerate/stimulate/embarrass a company to pay? Before hiring someone, even for a project, smart employers check a person or company’s Facebook, Twitter and other social media pages where they’d see such postings. The writer in the intro was angry and rightly so, but would a reputation of blabbing to the world about a grievance frighten away future clients?

Exploitation

Service of Unicorns: It’s Nice to Believe

Monday, August 31st, 2015

Uncorn

One of my first eye-openers happened years ago with the now defunct Cue Magazine that covered going’s on in NYC and was a reliable guide for eons. After arriving late at the movies a few times because of inaccurate listings and event and restaurant recommendations turned from being editor picks to sponsored ones that weren’t  always so hot, the resource lost its usefulness.

Angie’s List may be following a similar model, according to Abby Haglage in thedailybeast.com, which is too bad: It sounded like such a good idea. The answer to the title of her piece, “Is Angie’s List Making Business List Owners Pay for Top Spots?” appears to be “yes,” and it’s only a part of the problem. Its well known mantra for its 3 million US subscribers, “Reviews you can trust,” should be tweaked to “Sponsored reviews to take at your own risk.”

Figures don’t lie and should be a big hint. Haglage reported that “76 percent of the company’s $315 million total revenue came from service providers” translated to advertisers; Membership accounted for 23 percent. She also wrote about Jeff Blyskal’s 2013 findings in Consumer Reports. He similarly debunked the influence of consumer opinions in determining the order of listings, starting with the best, noting they favor advertisers.  

One customer, Janell Moore, filed a class action suit this spring. The kitchen home remodelerremodeling contractor she found on the list left her project in the lurch and didn’t respond or return the $4,000 she’d paid. Wrote Haglage: “Moore claims it was only after leaving a negative review of the company that she was able to see other negative reviews, which led her to believe that the rating system wasn’t done fairly.”

Moore’s complaint contends that members are duped into thinking the lists are arranged according to quality of review. In reality they are determined according to who paid the most for the listing. And according to Haglage, there also were complaints from hundreds of Consumer Reports readers.

“Angie’s List falsely assures consumers that ‘service providers cannot influence their ratings on Angie’s List,’” reads an opening section of Moore’s 28-page complaint. “These and similar statements dupe potential and existing members into believing that Angie’s List reviews, ratings, and search results are valuable and trustworthy because they reflect unfiltered feedback of consumers, for consumers.”

home builderThe company has filed a motion to dismiss. Haglage explained: “In a section titled ‘How Angie’s List Works,’ the company says that it’s transparent about money being involved in its rating mode. ‘Members are expressly told that service providers may pay to offer such promotions and that as a result they may be placed ‘at the top’ of search results.’”

There’s another side to the story—that of taking advantage of small business people. It’s not unusual for advertising fees to be flexible and an example in the article shows how elastic. One Minneapolis-based landscape and construction business owner, Stanley Ganadek, had this experience Haglage reported: “After a few positive reviews on his page, reps called asking if he’d be willing to pay $33,000 to stay at the top of the page. Genadeck, who talked them down to $3,000, created a YouTube video to help protect other business owners from spending too much.” The landscape owner confirmed that you can’t pay to be on the list but sales reps—almost 2,000 of them–call when you’ve received two reviews and according to Haglag, they call and call and call.

Who hasn’t had a bad experience with a contractor, real estate agent, vendor, hair stylist or dentist that a friend, business colleague or relative recommended? Do you think Moore’s complaint and those of Consumer Reports’ readers have merit or does caveat emptor play here and that consumers should be punished for their naïveté? What about the model of picking on small business owners who might not be informed about how advertising works—all’s fair, right?

small business 1

 

Service of Apology III: Do You Need To Say “I’m Sorry?”

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

Love means never having to say you're sorry

In “Love Story,” Eric Segal wrote “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” I wonder if the co-CEOs of Whole Foods think that their customers love them. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

A friend gave us a gift card to Whole Foods and we enjoyed our purchases. They charge more than other supermarkets for some things and so what? There are those who think that if they pay a lot for something it must be good and while the grocer sells a far bigger range than meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, the store is known for its organic fare. Its regulars are not hurting anyone by spending their money there.

NYC dept consumer affairsCharging more is one thing; overpricing another. In “Whole Foods admits overcharging, blames employees and apologizes,” in The Washington Post, according to reporter Will Greenberg: “The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs [DCA] wrote: ‘New York City stores routinely overstated the weights of its pre-packaged products — including meats, dairy and baked goods — resulting in customers being overcharged.’”

Greenberg quoted Walter Robb and John Mackey, Whole Foods co-CEOs’ explanation about “the stores’ fresh products, including sandwiches, squeezed juices and hand-cut fruit, [that] were often weighed or labeled improperly, with store employees labeling their pre-packaged products at prices higher than they should have been. Mackey said there have been a ‘very, very small percentage’ of weighing errors.”

Small percentage? This weighing glitch happened on all 80 pre-packaged items that the inspectors tested in different stores around New York City. Quoting a statement by DCA commissioner Julie Menin, Greenberg wrote: “Our inspectors tell me this is the worst case of mislabeling they have seen in their careers, which DCA and New Yorkers will not tolerate.”

weighing foodI asked a cashier at a different well known grocery operation about this. He said he’d been in retail all his life and had previously worked at Whole Foods. He noted that it’s easy to make a mistake on the tare weight, which measures the container/packaging that is subtracted in the pricing process. He said an employee might forget to change it from one item to another. If it was this simple, and represented such insignificant amounts of money, why didn’t the CEOs say so?

I twice listened to the video of the co-CEOs posted in Greenberg’s article and re-read the article. Three words were missing: I am sorry. Yet the word “apologizes” is in the article’s headline.

In the video, Robb and Mackey spoke to their customers. They said they’d ramp up training; have audits gauging progress made and give free any item that a customer questioned and was improperly priced in the store’s favor. They also thanked their customers for shopping there.

Will you continue to shop at Whole Foods and weigh what you buy? Does admitting improper weighing and labeling amount to an apology? If your customers love you, do you even need to apologize?  What do you think of bosses who take little blame themselves?

Thank you for shopping

Service of Shaggy Dog Stories

Monday, May 18th, 2015

shaggy dog 2

You may remember from a previous post the story my dad used to tell about a dog in a small French town who every time he visited the butcher would enjoy a pat and a toothsome bone. One day the butcher played a trick on the dog and he tucked the bone in the dog’s collar, on his back, where the pooch couldn’t reach it. According to Dad, the dog was insulted and never returned.

The rest of this post is also reminiscent of a recent one, “Service of False Advertising.” What’s in the air? It must either be the season or the economy.

30 percent offI fell for a “30 percent off winter coat dry cleaning” poster in the window of a place near my office that I frequented a lot last year. I was shocked when the bill was $17 to clean a simple no-frills jacket and asked about the discount. “That’s been factored in.”

Like the dog, I don’t plan to return. I don’t like being bamboozled. Arf. An upstate dry cleaner, Thims, whose prices have been comparable to this one’s charges $10-$12 [with no discount]. Previously the cost differential on any item was never more than a dollar or two. While rent and salaries are less in Dutchess County, a midtown Manhattan cleaner has a volume that far surpasses that of an upstate business.

And yet I keep falling for these things.

reams of paperI bought a few reams of paper at a major office supply store and sent in the rebate information [which I’ve done countless times before]. A few weeks later I got a postcard. It said that I hadn’t sent the correct receipt. [There was only one so it was impossible to make a mistake]. Perhaps they were counting on my not having a copy, which I didn’t. I was irritated about wasting my time, won’t be doing the rebate thing again and will also avoid buying that brand of paper.

Is the secret to not being taken to fall for zero promotions, rebates and special offers? Does a business that plays such games think it is following a clever strategy? Are there any legit ones?

Shaggy dog 1

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