Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Scam Tactics: How Easy It Is To Fool Experts and Review Sites, or allow them to fool you




Recently, there's an article at Vice.com, where the author decided to play a hoax on TripAdvisor... They created a FAKE restaurant, which is a picnic table in the back of the author's house, created some FAKE entrees (you'll laugh at the ingredients), got some FAKE reviews through burner phones and whatnot, and got it to be the top-rated restaurant in London... a restaurant that does NOT exist.

I won't spoil the method, let's just say, it's easier than you think.

This wasn't the first prank the author, Oobah Butler, had done. Previously he bullsh*tted his way onto Paris Fashion Week and it was absolutely brilliant. But he's hardly the first to prank experts and succeded.

But then, expert reviews are fooled all the time.  In 2008, wine critic and author Robin Goldstein created a fake restaurant, allegedly stocked with the worst wines Wine Spectator magazine had ever rated. The submitted it to the said magazine. After a while, the fake restaurant had won "award of excellence" by the same magazine.

Wine Spectator called it "publicity seeking stunt", but it exposes something deeply troubling... What sort of experts at the magazine review the candidate for "award of excellence"?  And if they let a fake restaurant get on, what can DELIBERATE manipulation do?

But the pattern ran much much deeper than that. Experts are fooled ALL THE TIME.
And the problem doesn't stop there. There are review and authority websites that secretly signs under-the-table deals with crooks to promote or write nice articles without any disclosure. And this had been a long-standing problem in network marketing.


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

DADA Loop: Data / Analysis / Decision / Action and the MLM mind




How do you make decisions?  It's usually a 4 step process:

1. Gather Data

2. Analyze Data

3. Decide on Action

4. Perform the action

This is pretty obvious to most people. Military call it the OODA loop, civilians called it DADA loop (data, analysis, decision, action), but it's the same thing.

So how can this loop go wrong?  EVERY one of the four steps can go wrong.
  • One can gather the WRONG data (victim of deception or bad data gathering)
  • One can fail to analyze data objectively (by ignoring good data)
  • One can fail to decide on any action (stalled loop)
  • One can fail to perform the action correctly.

Let's see how MLMer reacts to these steps.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Ponzi Analysis: Suspected Australian and Canadian Ponzi Schemes show all the classic signs long before collapse



In 2017, there were lots of Ponzi schemes, and two of them caught my attention. One was the Pilbarra Ponzi scheme in Australia, and the other was Istuary Innovation Labs Ponzi in Canada. Both of them show classic Ponzi signs long before their collapse.

To recap, the alleged Pilbarra Ponzi was a real estate investment project on the island of Newman near Western Australia, and Port Hedland, also Western Australia. Over $120 million where raised from 1800 investors who were promised between 10 and 36% per year return, into what they thought where property-backed investment. Turns out, the largest property was a piece of undeveloped land on the island of population 7000. The group of companies went bankrupt in 2016, and the Australia agency ASIC charged the operator Veronica Macpherson of operating a Ponzi scheme, with the later joiner's money went toward paying the early participant's interests.

As for Istuary Innovation Labs Ponzi, it started in 2013 as "technology incubation platform" to link tech startups in Canada with customers in China. What was interesting was it promised to return FIVE TIMES what was put into the company in two years, alleged the victims suing the company. Several employees and contractors claimed they had not been paid for work or wages. One investor outright called Istuary a Ponzi scheme.

Let's ignore for now whether they are really Ponzi schemes or not. But what are the signs of danger both exhibited long before they started actually showing problems?


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Being Skeptical: Can you make $$$ mining bitcoins? (2017 edition)



With Bitcoin around 8000, people are once again excited about mining Bitcoins. But does it make sense for YOU to order a mining rig and start mining yourself?

Frankly, no, unless you live in an area with extremely cheap electricity.

You can play with the profitability calculator.  http://www.bitcoinx.com/profit/

Remember to plug in the cost of the rig (assume Antminer S9 cost $2000, 1600W, produces 14 TH/s), and cost of your local electricity (assume $0.13/W), AND the current BTC/USD conversion (use $8000)

Even at the current prices of $8000 USD/BTC, you won't break even for 5 MONTHS (breakeven is calculated for 140-160 days depending on electricity costs). The ONLY way this can be profitable is you setup where electricity is cheap, like in India and China, where electricity is 1/3 less than in the US.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Scam Spotting: Is this kitten for sale page on Facebook legit or not?

Someone brought this to the attention of /r/scams... is this legit?

FB page claims to have Sphynx kittens for sale at $600 
The initial page is already problematic. Google photo search comes up with a for sale ad from south Australia town of Glenunga.


Scrolling through the cute photos shows they've been advertising these cats since January 20th, 2017.

A volunteer contacted them via Facebook Messenger, and they claimed to be in Dallas, TX.


Their first timeline photo is this cat:


While I cannot find the EXACT photo, it was pretty obvious it was a screencap from a video, as I was able to find this photo of the same cat, the same potted plant, the same plastic sheet on the same table, just different pose, but it's from a classified ad in Granada, Spain.  There's a video below (no longer available) so presumably, that's where the above "photo" came from.



Saturday, November 18, 2017

MLM Basics: The eBay Test

"Jason McRiffle" brought up an interesting test in a BehindMLM comment for the "legitimacy" of an MLM, and it's more useful than it first seems. He dubbed it "the eBay test".

If an MLMer wants you to join "for the product", the way to check whether it's viable or not... is to take the product name and size, and go search on eBay for the same item.

If you can buy it cheaper on eBay including shipping than what you are supposed to sell it for, then it's clearly NOT profitable to join at all as you can't retail it at any profit.

Let's randomly pick one product from each of the top 3 MLM companies by revenue: Amway, Avon, and Herbalife.

Amway Nutrilite Double X Refill "retail price" is $88 on Amway's website


Same refill is easily found on eBay for $50-$60, and if you want to bid, even less



That's not a surprise, is it?


Sunday, November 12, 2017

How Paris Hilton and celebrities made SEC, FTC, and FDA see red: possibly illegal endorsements and reviews are exploding; how to spot them and avoid them



What do actor Jamie Foxx, ex-Boxer Floyd Mayweather, rapper DJ Khaled, soccer player Luis Suarez, and hotel heiress Paris Hilton have in common?

They all endorsed an initial coin offering (ICO), either publicly or online. Jamie Foxx tweeted about anticipating Cobinhood, Floyd Mayweather and DJ Khaled endorsed Centra, Luis Suarez endorsed Stox. Paris Hilton tweeted that she supported ICO of Lydian. only to delete the tweet 3 weeks later.

New York Times wrote an expose on how boxer Floyd Mayweather and rapper DJ Khaled endorsed an ICO called Centra, despite many questions about the head of the company and the business model. And that is when Security Exchange Commission (SEC), the regulatory body of investments in the US, started to see red.

SEC had already issued an investor bulletin in July specifically on ICOs, warning that some ICOs may be considered securities in the US, and promotion of such may violate security laws because they are not registered with the SEC.

SEC in September 2017 closed two fraudulent ICOs and alleged Maksim Zaslavskiy of fraudulently promoting two ICOs, REcoin and DRCoin, which were advertised as being backed by real estate and diamonds. SEC alleged that Zaslavskiy raised only 1/10th of the money he actually did, and never hired any experts nor purchased any diamonds or real estate as it claimed it did or will do. SEC obtained a court order to freeze all assets of companies related to these two ICOs.

SEC on November 1st issued a directive to all people, but specifically, celebrities who promote/endorse ICOs.
Any celebrity or other individual who promotes a virtual token or coin that is a security must disclose the nature, scope, and amount of compensation received in exchange for the promotion.  A failure to disclose this information is a violation of the anti-touting provisions of the federal securities laws.  Persons making these endorsements may also be liable for potential violations of the anti-fraud provisions of the federal securities laws, for participating in an unregistered offer and sale of securities, and for acting as unregistered brokers.  
Paris Hilton seems to be the only celebrity who had walked back on his or her ICO endorsements as of 11/11/2017.

But SEC wasn't the only US Federal agency out looking for misleading and possibly illegal endorsements. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and Federal Drug Administration (FDA) are also clamping down on such illegal behavior that may be misleading consumers.