Archive for the ‘Scams’ Category

Service of Trust II or I Wish It Were True

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Tax relief

I would like to know how you gauge which commercials to trust, especially those involving health-related products, identity theft protection, tax relief advice, weight loss, gardening aids, deer and mouse repellants.

identify theft protectionI was inspired to cover the topic [again] after listening to a segment of “Health Matters,” on NPR sponsored by Sharon Hospital in Conn. The doctor, Jared Zelman, shared sage if obvious advice: Don’t believe quick fix solutions regarding weight loss remedies or those described by people who claim to have been cured of their chronic diseases simply by taking X. The hospital and/or doctor must come across plenty who fall for useless tonics or they wouldn’t select the topic–there are so many other potential ones.

Deer eating plantsRadio personalities tout [and say they swear by] miracle anti-wrinkle creams, weight loss tonics that take off 30-40 lbs. in a month, easy back tax relief for those who owe $10K or more, foolproof rodent repellants, effective organic garden pest deterrents and protection from identity theft. The latter makes me chuckle: If Sony, Target, TJ Maxx and Home Depot can’t fend off hackers while allegedly spending $billions, how are Mr. and Mrs. Middle America supposed to protect themselves by tossing monthly dollars at some company?

If I’d saved what I’ve spent on useless mouse and deer repellants alone I’d be on easy street. I continue to fall for what I so desperately wish would work. Do you? And as I asked in the lead, how do you know what is really effective? Are you ever tempted to give something new a chance?

garden pest

Service of Scams

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

Scam2

When I hear about or observe outrageous scams or ones that are easy to fall for I share so word gets out, which is an effective way to defang such swindles.

The worst of the latest crop preyed on students by offering them internships at the United Nations Centre for International Development (UNCID) in Geneva, Switzerland. The student who told me about it originally heard of the opportunity via her university’s career services department. “It was just like any other email/job posting that we receive,” she said. Others in her class also applied and a longtime professor remarked at what a superlative opportunity this was.

She was accepted by the fraudulent program and received medical record, internship allegiance and employment offer forms and documents that she was to sign and return via a special email address.

FishyWhat alerted her to the fact that this otherwise legitimate sounding internship was fishy? Her sister mentioned to her that there is no organization called U.N.C.I.D, her first clue.  She then checked out the names of various people who signed or were mentioned in emails. None came up in a Google search, nor did any have LinkedIn profiles nor did they appear on the U.N. website.

In addition, the employment offer, signed by a Dr. (Mrs.) Jennifer Hudson, Intern Coordinator, noted a $4,125/month stipend. She told me, “The UN doesn’t pay its interns.” [Do real people sign their name Dr. (Mrs.)?]

When I saw the stationery used for the employment offer—she sent me all the documents–it looked clumsily handmade. The letterhead was crammed up against the UN logo, another tip of the dubious nature of this offer.

I couldn’t figure out what the scammers had to gain by receiving a batch of signed documents from students. My young friend said she read in an online forum that they would next ask her for money to cover her airline and living expenses. I shudder to think of other nefarious outcomes of young people arriving abroad, alone, in the hands of people with shady intentions.

These timely cons seamlessly intrude in ways that make perfect sense. Here are two more.

SurveyAfter we leased a new car I received three requests to take a survey. The first one, from General Motors, I responded to. Another came by email a month or so later and the third, supposedly from J.D. Power and Associates, through the USPS at the same time. Before doing anything I contacted Barry Lang, our General Motors salesman. [I wrote about his spectacular service a few months ago.]. He suggested I ignore both which, with the corroboration of my nephew who is in another part of the car business, I did. Neither man liked the sound of these requests. Tip: The one from J.D. Power came with a sweepstakes offer for a $100,000 prize.

Have you noticed scams like these that we should know about? Has the prevalence of such behavior changed the way you respond to opportunities and requests for information? Think that there are more cons than ever before?

scam alert 2

Service of “I Told You So”

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

Told you so

Certain specialties, while critical, are fragile because they have so many naysayers. Psychology is one of them. I believe in its effectiveness so much I wish I’d studied to be a psychologist.

When a once respected PhD like Diederik Stapel, a social psychologist, fakes tests to gain fame it’s as bad for the field as the damage charlatans do for currently incurable diseases. Because naysayers think psychology [and its offshoots] is so much bunk, when a star is caught red-handed can’t you just hear the “I told you so!”

I read about Stapel in Yudhijit Bhattacharjee’s “The Mind of a Con Man,” in The New York Times Sunday Magazine. The reporter notes that such fraud is nothing new in science which I know firsthand. As a newbie PR person in a then unfamiliar field I uncovered a clinician who had invented test results that a pharmaceutical client was about to tout. I always thought that this was the exception and was disheartened to read in the Times article, “But the scientific misconduct that has come to light in recent years suggests at the very least that the number of bad actors in science isn’t as insignificant as many would like to believe.”

social psycologyStapel, a Dutchman, blamed the media, in part, for the path he chose. Bhattacharjee wrote: “In his early years of research — when he supposedly collected real experimental data — Stapel wrote papers laying out complicated and messy relationships between multiple variables. He soon realized that journal editors preferred simplicity. ‘They are actually telling you: ‘Leave out this stuff. Make it simpler,’ Stapel told me. Before long, he was striving to write elegant articles.”

This I don’t buy. Much of my business involves simplifying my clients’ sometimes complicated or technical information for industry trade and consumer audiences which, like me, thousands do daily without fakery. That’s what links, footnotes and charts are for.

Bhattacharjee continued, “What the public didn’t realize, he said, was that academic science, too, was becoming a business. ‘There are scarce resources, you need grants, you need money, there is competition,’ he said.’Normal people go to the edge to get that money. Science is of course about discovery, about digging to discover the truth. But it is also communication, persuasion, marketing. I am a salesman.”

SalesmanDoes every salesman lie? In addition, Stapel doesn’t think much of the public’s brains if he believes we know nothing about scarce resources, competition and budgets/funds for projects in his or any business.

The fake studies also marred the work of countless doctoral students for whom Stapel conducted studies though the universities where they and Staple were involved didn’t find the students guilty. Yet earlier in the article Bhattacharjee commented about the students, “They don’t appear to have questioned why their supervisor was running many of the experiments for them. Nor did his colleagues inquire about this unusual practice.”

fake brandToward the end of the article Bhattacharjee wrote: “The field of psychology was indicted, too, with a finding that Stapel’s fraud went undetected for so long because of ‘a general culture of careless, selective and uncritical handling of research and data.’”

Are you especially dismayed when people in a field that’s supposed to help others do more to help themselves thereby leaving subjects at risk, giving ammunition to the “I told you so” crowd? Is the media to blame for scientists who cheat because editors look to cover simple subjects and conclusions? It’s hard to get grants and financial support for scientific research: a viable excuse for faking a study, yes or no?

Measure human behavior

Service of Caution

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

caution

The AARP is sending out postcards to “current resident” warning caregivers and older Americans about foreign lotteries—scams that are making the rounds via phone, email and mailed letter. [I haven’t seen this one yet but obviously it must be prevalent.]

News flashThis week I got an email from CNN headlining enticing news. I didn’t link from the email but instead went to the CNN website and there was nothing of the sort posted. That one scared me—I was inches from falling for it.

A friend is helping her son look for an apartment in upstate New York and she’s been letting her fingers do the research online. I asked her how it was going and whether she’d seen any of the spaces in person.

apartmentTurns out that many of the apartments she’d seen in listings on a well known website are scams. I know landlords who have filled their offices with legitimate business people through this listing. I was disheartened that for residential purposes so many opportunities were cheats.

These faux landlords are really looking for personal, credit and bank information, not tenants. Obviously the burgeoning polluted links that arrive via email aren’t designed by the only unscrupulous people online.

Reaching outTakeaway: You’ve got to be cautious even if you’re the one reaching out.

Soon my friend realized what was going on: She didn’t fall for the requests to fill out all sorts of forms before seeing the properties. She said, “We’re going to a real estate agent,” and added, “It’s horrible that these people prey on innocent, poor people. Someone looking to rent a studio or one bedroom apartment isn’t usually affluent.”

Have you seen new Internet scams and swindles lately? How do you protect yourself from unscrupulous types who post on a legitimate site [which covers itself with appropriate warnings]?

swindle

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