A Mystery Shopper Scam

Be very careful out there.

Despite assurances from the Gummint that the economic crash of 2008 is over, a lot of people are still unemployed or underemployed and are looking for ways to make a living.

Here’s a scam that I followed up with via email, just to see what’s involved. It turns out to be a new twist on the old “bogus check” scam, but this one is very well-crafted and could fool a lot of people who are not suspicious.

This is the letter I received from “Customer Impact” in Bryan, Texas:

Scam letter

Notice all the “Endorsements”… naturally all bogus. Enclosed was this evaluation form for the “Mystery Shopper” jobs:

scam form

And lastly, the bogus check. There is no such company, the check is simply printed out on a commercial form, and if you cash it and send any money to the scammers for whatever reason, your money is gone and you could be prosecuted for passing fraudulent documents. It’s happened.

scam check

NEVER send money via Western Union or Money Card or other means to someone you do not know. Just don’t.

Be careful out there.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

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Never download apps that do this.

You’re browsing along on your mobile, and suddenly this screen or one like it pops up. You can’t go back. Sometimes your device begins buzzing. Sometimes there’s an ominous computer-generated voice along with it.

Screenshot_2017-10-25-04-40-30

You can usually quit your browser altogether, but you might lose where you were. If you click “OK”, you might get another warning:

Screenshot_2017-10-25-04-40-54

Click the “Remove viruses” button and you’re taken to the Play Store where you can download the app that “removes viruses.”

Screenshot_2017-10-25-04-41-15

Don’t do this. Just don’t.

If the authors of the application use this technique to terrify you into downloading their app, you can hardly trust software they’ve written.

If this is being done by an affiliate marketer, it could be legitimate, but I wouldn’t bet money on it.

Lastly,  as a general rule Android devices don’t attract viruses. Many of these “cleaners” are devised to either put real malware on your device or generate more scare messages which will lead you to a paid cleaning service.

Best to stay away from all of them; here’s an excellent article on the subject from ExtremeTech.

Be safe out there.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Watch that fine print

spectrum

Wow, TV + Internet +Voice, $29.99! That certainly grabs the attention.

Spectrum 2.jpg

“Each.” That means the total price is about 90 bucks. Hmm, not such a great deal after all. And “Standard rates apply after 1 year,” says the teeny-tiny print on the back.

This is not exclusive to Spectrum – pull just about any flyer out of your mailbox or newspaper, and you’ll be likely to see something similar. Sales, marketing, and advertising – three industries that drive our economy, and all dependent on

  • persuasion
  • puffery
  • deception, and
  • outright fraud.

It’s scary, and except for the last one, it’s almost 100% legal.

1. Persuasion – the key to your wallet

Let’s look at the key points from Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini:

  • Reciprocation: Consider the in-store wine tasting, or the free scone at the coffee shop. We think we’re coming out on top, but the expectation to give back is strong within us, and leads us to buy something.
  • Consistency: We like to see ourselves as consistent souls with unwavering beliefs. So if you ask me to publicly declare my devotion to animal rights, for example, I’m more likely to donate money to PETA later.
  • Authority: Four out of five dentists recommend using the reassuring gloss of authority to sell this toothpaste.
  • Social Validation: Rugged individualist fantasies aside, we are more likely to do something if we see that many other people like us have also done it.
  • Scarcity: Anyone who has grabbed a plain, overpriced t-shirt from another’s hands at a “one-day-only” sale understands how persuasive limited-time and limited-quantity offers are.
  • Liking: If you like someone, you are more likely to say “yes” to her request. If she is pretty, you’re even more likely. And if she compliments you, well, that works, too.

The book goes into great detail about how marketers invoke the “click, whirr” response in us, but this is the core of the book. Ironically, it can be read either as a consumer guide or a training manual for salespeople!

But you see these techniques in place everywhere. JC Penney tried ditching frequent sales for “everyday low pricing” and it didn’t work. People like sales. Never mind that a sweater that’s marked $39.95 today, and goes on sale tomorrow at $42.95 (slashed from $79.95!) is more expensive “on sale” that it was yesterday, people will buy it because a) they have short memories, b) they’re not savvy shoppers, and c) it was on sale!!!

Need to pop into the grocery store for a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread? They are likely in the farthest corner of the store, so you have to walk by everything else to get there. High-profit items are carefully placed at convenient height, and the location of goods is regularly rotated to keep shoppers off balance – the longer you’re in the store searching for things, the more you’ll buy. Most items in grocery flyers are not “on sale” – they’re just there to make you think they are. Colors, smells, relaxing music and clever signage (“Only $1.00” – even though it’s always just been a dollar) add to the myriad ways stores try to part you from your cash.

2. Puffery – Marketing’s license to lie.

In law, puffery is a promotional statement or claim that expresses subjective rather than objective views, which no “reasonable person” would take literally. (Wikipedia.)

Thanks to the machinations of countless generations of attorneys, advertisers are free to say pretty much what they want about their products. The claims made via puffery may be patently false, but they are “not really lies” because they can’t be disproved. “The World’s Best Hot Dog” is an unassailable statement because no “reasonable person” could be expected to believe it, and it can be neither proved nor disproved, being a completely subjective statement – and puffery creates no express warranty or guarantee for the consumer. Some examples of puffery include:

  • Meals fit for a king!
  • Our mattresses are softer than a cloud!
  • Better ingredients, better pizza!
  • The Best Coffee in Town!
  • Lose Weight Fast!

If something is demonstrably false – i.e. “nature’s perfect food” can be challenged by science – then it’s probably punishable by law. Opinions, however, are not statements of fact.

3. Deception

Hall of Shame Advertisement

My favorite deceptive ad of all time, which I have referenced before. This is the crown jewel of shameful advertising. If you strip away all the puffery, this ad says “Buy our rabbit ears – they’re prettier!” But every statement in the ad can be interpreted in more than one way, and taken together (by someone who’s not especially sophisticated) they imply some incredible technological breakthrough at a dirt-cheap price.

Advertising restrictions were not as stringent a generation ago:

The jingle in this retro ad is a bit different from the one I remember:

If you want shoes with lots of pep, get Keds, kids, Keds.
For bounce and zoom in every step, get Keds, kids, Keds.
Those shock-proof arches can’t be beat
They sure are great for growing feet
You’ll be a champion athlete!
Keds, kids, Keds.

Equally bad was this ad for Kellogg’s Apple Jacks from the 60s:

“A bowl a day keeps the bullies away!” How many kids begged their moms for a box of this cereal, only to find that they got slammed into the lockers just as hard the next day?

If you want deceptive advertising, just head for the nutritional supplement industry. I take these people to task at every opportunity, as I recently did with ProBioSlim. I made the manufacturer so mad that I actually got my first cease-and-desist letter, out of which came precisely nothing.

4. Outright Fraud

Frankly, I feel like most affiliate-marketer-sponsored nutritional or weight-loss products are criminally fraudulent; just type “snake oil” in the search bar of this blog for myriad examples. But in this section I mention a few cases that actually spawned legal action and forced advertisers to change course.

  • In 2014, Red Bull paid $13 million to settle a class-action suit because it claimed “Red Bull Gives You Wings.”
  • In 2010, Kellogg claimed Rice Krispies could boost your immune system. In 2011. Kellogg agreed to pay $2.5 million to affected consumers, as well as donating $2.5 million worth of Kellogg products to charity.

  • New Balance was accused of false advertising in 2011 over a sneaker range that it claimed could help wearers burn calories. Nope. In 2012, New Balance agreed to pay a settlement of $2.3 million.
  • Lumos Labs: In January 2016, the makers of popular brain-training app Luminosity were fined $2 million by the FTC for deceptive advertising, claiming that the app could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, among other things.

  • In the 1990s, the “Airborne” herbal supplement was everywhere. It claimed to hold off harmful bacteria and germs, preventing everyday ailments like the flu and common cold. The claims ended in a class-action lawsuit involving over $30 million in settlement payments.

Puffery is one thing, outright lies are another. While the FTC and the FDA are underfunded and overburdened, they do their best to protect the consumer from fraud and abuse wherever they can.

Ultimately, caveat emptor along with a healthy dose of skepticism, social awareness, and a willingness to do the necessary research is the consumer’s best defense against fraudulent advertising practices.

As usual, be careful out there.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The scammers don’t give up

scam1

The “Microsoft Customer Support” scam: Today’s number is 866-587-7384.

Your screen locks up. You can’t close your browser. You can’t go back. A computerized voice starts talking to you about pornographic malware. A warning message tells you your data is being stolen. You are given a phone number to call for help removing the malware.

Do NOT call this number. It has nothing to do with Microsoft. The page you are seeing is a malicious script that has been loaded from a website that you visited, probably from a banner ad or something else that the page owner is unaware of, and is designed to scare you. If you follow the steps the “support agent” gives you, he or she will have you  give them total control of your system. From there, anything can happen and none of it will be good.

In the event that you went through this process with an “agent,” it will be critical for you to run an anti-malware program such as Malwarebytes (I don’t work for them), or have your computer cleaned by a professional, before you do anything else.

Be careful out there.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Don’t reply to spam. Ever.

This should go without saying, but I just thought I’d point out one of many reasons why you should never respond to spam messages.

spam

(We wanted to let you know that we noticed that you still did not claim your $200 Amazon-shopping bonus that was gifted to you as a thank you for your business in past.
Please be sure to claim this before Aug 25
But Hurry! This Ends on Aug 25!
Please Go Here Now to Claim Your $200 Amazon-Shopping Bonus)

Click on the “Claim Your Bonus” link and your email program will generate a message to the following addresses:

  • info@delopment.net
  • sports@southeoffice.com,
  • mailtech@provintimate.net
  • reply@republck.com
  • info@templervices.net

Whatever message you send, such as “Ooh yes I want my bonus” or whatever, you have just given a live email address to five spammers/criminals/scammers or Mogg knows what, with a loud additional shout: “I am a sucker! Please Scam Me!”

Just don’t. Never respond to anything in your Spam box, and if you get email from people you have never done business with, delete it at once.

Be careful out there.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Don’t waste your money on this garbage.

Every time I see a new scam for weight loss, I shed a tear for the people who are taken in. But when I see major retailers pushing snake oil, the tears dry up and are replaced with fiery heat under my collar.

Saw this at Walmart the other day – absolutely nothing new here, they’ve been doing this for a long time, but this is the latest example.

Scam 3

There’s no excuse for this. It’s taking advantage of people who are trying to release weight, selling them something that is just as valuable as the gravel in their driveways.

There is no magic bullet.

The large print giveth, but the small print taketh away: “Kelli used C. canephora robusta with diet and exercise and has been remunerated. Average weight loss with C. canephora robusta was 10.95 lbs in 60 days with a low-calorie diet and 3.7 lbs in 8 weeks with a calorie-reduced diet and moderate exercise.”

Scam 0

Do you happen to detect a trend here? As I mentioned in an earlier post, reducing caloric intake and increasing caloric consumption (i.e. exercise) will cause you to release weight even if you:

  • Take HydroxyCut
  • take homeopathic drops
  • sing an aria from “Aida”
  • stand on your head and spit nickels, or
  • eat a spoonful of Portland cement with each meal.

If  you weren’t sure, C. canephora robusta is also known as “robusta coffee,” a cousin to arabica coffee, and is often used in espresso because of its stronger flavor and increased bitterness.

Coffee. Trying to recycle the “green coffee extract” scam. Let’s look at all the ingredients:

Scam1

You can see that what you’re getting is basically caffeine and some other random herbs. And for weight release, it’s junk. It doesn’t work. And they know it.

To release weight, eat less and/or exercise more, preferably both. If you set up a consistent caloric deficit, you’ll gradually release weight in a healthy way (unless you really have a medical condition preventing it, in which case see your physician.) Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s hard; as I saw posted by a Facebook friend just today:

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And that’s another conversation. But don’t waste your money at Walmart or elsewhere on this worthless garbage.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

WordPress users, please use strong passwords

Just got phishing spam from bad guys pretending to the Bank of Ireland. Here’s the email:

Bank of Ireland Phishing

If you are fooled into clicking the link, you are redirected to:

http://personalbanking.bankofireland.obfusticated.com/ie/ie/authentication.html?e1s1

The “obfusticated” prevents anyone from actually going to the bad site, and protects the wordpress user whose website (“obfusticated.com”) has been compromised. For what it’s worth, I’ve done my best to warn the individual involved that there is a problem at their website.

The gateway page is below. It looks very official, but don’t let that fool you. It’s a fake.

Bank of Ireland Phishing 2

Then you get to give the criminals your login PIN:

Bank of Ireland Phishing 3

The malicious code appears to fail the first time and makes you re-enter the data. It doesn’t matter what you put in the second time, you’ll advance to the next page:

Bank of Ireland Phishing 4

Please be aware: BANKS WILL NEVER DO THIS. NEVER GIVE OUT SENSITIVE INFORMATION BY EMAIL OR ON THE WEB.

Next you are asked to hand the criminals your credit card password.

Bank of Ireland Phishing 5

Once they have your data – or in my case, a whole raft of obscenities – you are redirected to the real Bank of Ireland website.

If you have a WordPress blog (or any other website) please make sure you are using strong passwords. If bad guys get in, they can park malicious code in your web space and direct their victims there, not to mention steal whatever valuable data is there.

Never give out sensitive financial information over the web. If you suspect your accounts have truly been compromised or locked, call your bank directly and ask for verification.

Be careful out there.

The Old Wolf has spoken.