Selling Snake Oil with Name-Dropping.

I don’t like scammers. I don’t like woo-peddlers. I don’t like people who take advantage of the gullible and/or the vulnerable to make money at any cost. I’ve written numerous times about snake-oil sales, and even got a cease-and-desist letter from some law firm because the manufacturer didn’t like being called a scumball.

But they’re still at it.

Back in 2015, Forbes wrote a legitimate article about “How Fake News Articles And Lies About Billionaires Were Used To Market An Iffy Dietary Supplement.” Forbes complained and followed up, and the spurious website vanished, the cockroaches scurrying back into the darkness that spawned them.

For what it’s worth, the crooks didn’t focus on Forbes, they also used CNN and probably many others to hawk their garbage.

The thing about cockroaches, however, is that they keep coming back; if anyone survives a nuclear winter, it will be these creatures. There’s enough money to be made selling worthless nostrums that the scammers can easily afford to reformulate and resurface. and the immense potential for fraud inherent in affiliate marketing (which I elaborated on here) means that this plague will be a difficult one to eradicate.

I keep getting popup tabs when I visit Newser.com, and this is a recent one:

hawking

The name of the junk product has changed – instead of BrainStorm Elite it’s now IQ+, and the source of the farticle (fake article, or advertorial) is http://www.healthreportz.com/, a website that has nothing to do with Forbes.

It goes without saying that the product is worthless, Hawking has nothing to do with this junk, and the interview with Anderson Cooper is being spun to appear as if it’s endorsing this particular product – which it’s not.

The IQ+ website looks really slick, includes the standard Quack Miranda¹, and after you give them your information and click the big red “Rush My Order!” button, you are taken to the confirmation page where you provide your all-important credit card information. That page also includes this text:

rush

That’s exactly how it looks, and is so easy to miss that most people won’t read it, which is what the bottom-feeders are hoping for. If you do click the Terms and Conditions, you find the industry-standard “gotcha” clause:

In-Trial Offer: A trial offer provides the customer an opportunity to try our product free of charge for 14 days from date of order, paying only shipping and handling fees of $4.98(USD). At the conclusion of the trial period, you will be billed the full purchase price of $89.97(USD) and enrolled in the monthly replenishment program.

So that special price of $4.98 is really $94.95, and you will be billed $89.97 every 30 days because you signed up (without reading the details) for their convenient auto-ship program. You can make a Wreave bet² on the fact that getting a refund for unexpected charges to your credit card will be harder than pulling hen’s teeth – their agents will be trained to make it nearly impossible to get your money back without the threat of legal action.  This is how the kiz-eaters make their money, and frankly, Scarlet, it stinks.

I notified Forbes of the most recent iteration of this scam, and hopefully they’ll look into it. As mentioned before, there’s so much money to be made with scams of this nature that they’ll be back . I have no illusions that my little essays will do anything to stem the tide, but if even one person reads them and saves their money, it will have been worth it.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


Notes:

¹ The “Quack Miranda” warning is required by the FDA on all nutritional supplements, some of which have proven value. The appearance of the standard wording does not mean a product is worthless, but a huge percentage of the garbage sold by nutritional companies have dubious value and all must carry the disclaimer.

² The Wreaves are a part of Frank Herbert’s ConSentiency universe. Their strict code of honor prevents them from gambling, hence a “Wreave bet” is a sure thing.

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Shelf-safe milk

Apparently, shelf-safe milk (the link is a plug for Tetra Pak) has been a thing since the 1960s, thanks to high-power pasteurization (ultra-high-temperature) and packaging technology.

I first learned about this phenomenon while living in Austria in the 70s, where they called it Haltbarmilch (storable milk).

almliesl-h-milch-2953849

It had a slightly different taste when warm, but when refrigerated it’s hard to tell the difference, and this technology allows milk to be used in countries where refrigeration and storage is difficult.

It’s not unknown here in the US either:

parmalat-shelf-stable-milk

I’ve kept a few of these in my pantry at times for those odd occasions when we happened to run out, and it’s more than acceptable. You can still buy it at places like WalMart; unfortunately, Parmalat had some financial difficulties, but is still alive and kicking.

Speaking of milk, I recall one of my oddest encounters was in Italy in the 60s, when milk was distributed in tetra paks (the Tetra Pak company is named after these oddly-shaped cartons, developed by Erik Wallenberg, even though the packaging itself is no longer popular.)

milk-tetra-pak-italy

I’m not sure why these were so popular, but they were. And Italian milk tasted really odd to an American palate, but I got used to it and occasionally miss the flavor.

Again, these were also used in other countries, but I don’t ever recall encountering one here, even in my childhood.

milk-tetra-pak

Milk: It does a body good.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

 

 

Servers are people, not slaves

I’ve posted my thoughts about tipping before. I think it’s a bad system that allows restaurateurs to balance their budgets on the backs of their most important corporate assets, their employees. But as long as it’s the de facto standard, it’s important never to stiff a server.

But just as important as a good tip is the way you treat those who serve you, or wait on you, or help you in retail establishments, or answer the phone to help you with a transaction or a technical problem. And far too many people (witness the horror stories at places like Not Always Right) treat others in this category like something horrid that they would scrape off their shoe.

A few examples:

  1. A pastor writes on her server’s check, “I give God 10%. Why do you get 18?” She later stated that this was an unfortunate lapse of judgment and felt embarrassed about it, but Applebee’s, where the incident occurred, fired another server for publishing the offending check on reddit, even though no PII was revealed.
  2. A couple leaves a “tip” for a server: here’s your tip,” they said and explained that a woman’s place is in the home, as it says in the Bible, and that she should go home, clean her house, and cook a good hot meal for her husband and children. They even said her husband “must see another woman on his way home from a long day at his work” because she isn’t home, and told her to stop looking for handouts to feed her family.
  3. Some “Christians” have taken to leaving these tracts disguised as money as “tips,” thinking they’re contributing more to their waitstaff than crass pecuniary remuneration.

assholes

People who do things like the above examples are neither Christian, nor do they understand the very religion they so publicly claim to represent – and I refer them happily to Acts 8:21: “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.”

Then there are the people who are just douchebags for no reason.

  1. One sweet lady I work with told of spending almost 2 decades as a server. One “gentleman” she waited on told her that society had failed her because she was working as a waitress, and that she herself was a failure; he flipped a $5.00 bill at her and told her to put it into her infant daughter’s bank account, but that he doubted it would get there. Needless to say, he made her cry; this is what trolls do on the internet all the time, “for the lulz,” but it is beyond my capacity to comprehend how someone can do this in person. It’s a good thing I wasn’t at the next table, I would have been hard pressed not to stand up and smash his silly face.
  2. A man with “Esq.” after his name, proclaiming to all the world that he is an attorney, calls up customer service for assistance. When discovering his problem is a bit more complex than he wants (“Just fix it!”) he demands a manager. When he doesn’t get one immediately, he launches into this shouted tirade about “Now you’ve made me really angry! I’m documenting this call! I’m calling your CEO!” His douchebag wife even calls up to abuse some more agents about the same issue. And he actually does call the CEO, wasting countless people’s time and acting like a spoiled, entitled little brat until he gets heaven knows what. I’d love nothing better than to doxx this waste of human cytoplasm, but that’s not how I roll.
  3. For more examples, scan Not Always Right for the category “Bad Behavior.” (Link for the time-challenged.)

The solution to all these unhappy situations is pretty simple. It’s come to be known on the Internet as “Wheaton’s Law.”

wheatons-law

Seriously, just don’t.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Donald Trump, Brigham Young, and the meaning of a contract.

That Donald Trump is a “shrewd businessman” – I can put it no more charitably than that – is no secret. He himself has said that he takes pleasure in reneging on contracts if, according to him, work is poor, or not up to snuff, or late.

However, among the 1,450 lawsuits against Trump and Company are a significant percentage of people testifying that his modus operandi is to stiff people who work for him. In the past, he has generally gotten away with it because he was the 900-lb gorilla in the ring, and most people didn’t have the gumption or the legal resources to go up against him.

But recently, this practice came around and bit him on the honus, hard.

Trump’s company chose to pay small contractor Paint Spot $34,863 on a $200,000 contract. Paint Spot rustled up some high-powered lawyers willing to work on contingency and waive their fees if they lost, and sued Trump. During the trial,

Trump’s legal team looked positively stricken when the construction manager admitted during testimony that the company had decided not to pay The Paint Spot because it felt like it had “already paid enough.”

Trump’s loss was delicious. It illustrates plainly the standard operating procedure of a man who has made millions on the backs of others, without caring who gets hurt in the process – one of the classic hallmarks of a sociopath, of which Trump easily checks off at least five:

Antisocial Personality Disorder, as defined by DSM-5 – only three of these are sufficient to classify a sociopath.

1) failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
2) deception, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;
3) impulsivity or failure to plan ahead;
4) irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;
5) reckless disregard for safety of self or others;
6) consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;
7) lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.

Now, in contrast, let’s take a bit of satirical history from the pages of Samuel Clemens.

In  Mark Twain’s “Roughing It,” Chapter 14, we read the story of Mr. Street, busy with stringing telegraph wires across the rugged desert.

Unto Mormons he had sub-let the hardest and heaviest half of his great undertaking, and all of a sudden they concluded that they were going to make little or nothing, and so they tranquilly threw their poles overboard in mountain or desert, just as it happened when they took the notion, and drove home and went about their customary business! They were under written contract to Mr. Street, but they did not care anything for that. They said they would “admire” to see a “Gentile” force a Mormon to fulfil a losing contract in Utah! [Emphasis mine]

Mr. Street was in dismay to find himself in a country where “contracts were worthless,” until another Gentile (Note: This is the term that was long used in Mormon country for people not of that faith) suggested he go see Brigham Young. While in doubt that someone with only religious authority could help, he paid the President a visit and

laid the whole case before him. He said very little, but he showed strong interest all the way through. He examined all the papers in detail, and whenever there seemed anything like a hitch, either in the papers or my statement, he would go back and take up the thread and follow it patiently out to an intelligent and satisfactory result. Then he made a list of the contractors’ names. Finally he said:

“Mr. Street, this is all perfectly plain. These contracts are strictly and legally drawn, and are duly signed and certified. These men manifestly entered into them with their eyes open. I see no fault or flaw anywhere.”

Then Mr. Young turned to a man waiting at the other end of the room and said: `Take this list of names to So-and-so, and tell him to have these men here at such-and-such an hour.

brigham

They were there, to the minute. So was I. Mr. Young asked them a number of questions, and their answers made my statement good. Then he said to them:

“You signed these contracts and assumed these obligations of your own free will and accord?”

“Yes.”

“Then carry them out to the letter, if it makes paupers of you! Go!”

And they did go, too! They are strung across the deserts now, working like bees. And I never hear a word out of them.

While there is no evidence proving that this specific incident occurred, Roughing It is a semi-autobiographical novel detailing Twain’s travels, and through the satire some truth gleams like gems. I am inclined to believe the story has basis in fact for a number of reasons, most importantly that Brigham Young valued honesty and decried duplicity.

My mother used to sing me a little song when I was very young:

Before you make a promise,
Consider first it’s importance.
Then, when made,
Engrave it upon your heart.

I suspect my mother learned this from her father, and Linda K. Burton, general Relief Society President for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, heard the same song from her own grandfather

Honesty is one of the traits of a compassionate leader, one who says what (s)he means and does what (s)he says. I cannot, I will not support as the leader of my country someone who takes perverse pleasure in lies and deception to profit at the expense of others.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

This is not a solicitation call!

“This is not a solicitation call!

Hi! This is Kelly from the Credit Card Rewards center! We’ve been monitoring your credit card activity for the last six months: Congratulations! You’re eligible for 0% interest on your approved credit cards! Press 1 to speak to a live agent, or press 9 to be removed!”

robocall1

Just Google “This is not a solicitation call” and see how many hits you get at websites like 800Notes, WhoCallsMe, and other scammer databases.

I noted with interest that the Economic Times of India just reported the arrest of 500 call center employees who were threatening the US citizens and siphoning off their money. That’s a good piece of news – I wish they could shut them all down.

I’ve often wondered if the people who lend their voices to these robocalls have any idea what their recordings are being used for. It would seem hard to record a pitch like that without knowing that something shady is going on. On the other hand, despite the chipper-sounding greetings, perhaps they don’t care, and they’re just as crooked as the people who are running these robo-calling scams.

It seems that there are relatively few operators. According to sources at the Black Hat security convention in Las Vegas, 51% of  these robocalls originate from one of 38 outfits. That gives some hope that the flood may not be unstoppable, or at least that a serious dent could be put into their operations if they can be tracked down and apprehended.

While it seems that no one is doing anything, the opposite is true. Last June the FTC shut down Payless Solutions, a robocalling scammer who was charging hundreds or thousands of dollars for interest-lowering solutions, often without the customer’s permission.

I’m grateful to anyone who is diligently working to make sure the criminals behind and involved in these despicable operations are stopped and justly rewarded for their nefarious activities.

The Old Wolf ha spoken.