Afternoon InquisitionSkepticism

AI: Psst . . .

This just happened:

A guy approached me in the parking lot just outside, and says, “Hey, listen. Sorry to bother you, but I just delivered several home entertainment centers to a retailer down the street, but they messed up the shipping invoice, which means my truck was loaded with more than the retailer ordered. This has happened before, and when I returned with the extra merchandise to the warehouse, my supervisor kept it for himself. I don’t want to see that happen again, and they will never know about the extra merchandise if I don’t say anything, so I thought I’d give it to you for a great price.”

The guy then opened the back of his truck, and inside were his partner, half a dozen boxed, projection TVs, surround sound speakers, the works. He even had a legitimate looking invoice with a FedEx envelope.

At first, I just said that I couldn’t afford it, which caused him to assure me that he’d give me a great deal. Then I told him I had no need for that kind of entertainment equipment (stolen), which prompted him to offer me one at an even cheaper price. I said no again, and pulled my cell phone out of my pocket, just to see his reaction. He and his partner packed up and quickly drove away.

I wondered how many people the two of them had encountered that actually believed their story.

Have you ever used your skepticism to sniff out a scam like that? Hot merchandise? Have you ever perpetrated a scam like that? Have you ever been taken by a scam? If so, what were the particulars? How did you react?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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  1. First of all, wow. That’s really funny. You painted the scene really well, so that as I read it, it played out like a movie in my head. Bravo!

    Second of all, I have dealt with this before in the form of a rental scam. I wrote about it on my blog, included screen shots of email conversations with the guy, the works. And even now, about 9 months later, I still get comments on that post from people who Google the guy’s name (he’s still at it) and end up at my blog, read about my experience, and avoid getting scammed. I’m really proud of that post because it has actually helped people. If anyone wants to read it, it’s here . [/shameless, but relevant plug]

  2. This seemed to be quite a common scam during one of my university years back in 1998/99 – pretty much everyone I associated with had someone offer them speakers out of the back of a van at least once.

  3. “I never do business with people who approach me.” This is also the most effective line for interrupting these people’s patter. My response has less to do with skepticism than pure natural caution. I don’t care if they call me or knock on my door. It doesn’t matter if it is merchandise or charity. The most I will do for charity is listen to the pitch and then donate online if I feel motivated.

    I run into something like this scam once a year. Stereos, TVs, and even seafood. I’m going buy seafood from itinerant merchants?! No. Almost always just say “no thanks” and walk away. One time I took down the license of a stereo vendor and reported it on a non-emergency police line. I was never contacted again so I assume nothing came of it.

  4. But you could have become the owner of some questionably-legal low-cost merchandise and lived the Dangerous, Glamorous Life of a Criminal on the Run!

    Missed opportunities.

  5. Several years ago, I was walking through the lobby of a nice hotel in Philadelphia. I didn’t realize that my (now ex) husband had stopped to talk to someone, so I appeared to be alone. A large man approached me and said he was having trouble with the MAC (I.e. ATM) machine in the parking lot and asked if I would help him. I loudly said, “Maybe the security guard can help you! Let’s go ask him!” And, of course, he ran. I know that’s not a huge skeptical acheivement, but it chills me to think some women might fall for it.
    Reccommended reading: The Gift of Fear by Gavin deBecker.

  6. Hi there!

    I was out for a distinctly non-romantic walk with one of my lovely librarian colleagues in Washington DC after a conference, and some guy, (mistaking us for young lovers) handed us a bottle of white wine. It was exactly the same circumstance, there was some kind of shipping mix-up, and he was just looking to get rid of the extra bottles.

    The funny thing was, he wasn’t asking us for any cash. He just wanted to get them off his hands. He handed me the bottle and said: “Just take it, enjoy, have a great night!”, and then waved us off. It was a sealed bottle, corked and foiled, but strangely had no label. It was completely blank, as if the label had never been applied.

    We were both skeptical, and in the end, I never wound up drinking it. It was probably a great bottle of wine, but the not-having-a-label thing kinda weirded me out. It could have been anything. It even looked like wine, it had a nice pale yellow chardonnay color.

    Was I being TOO skeptical? I mean, it’s not like the guy tried to rip me off, and I highly doubt that he had some kind of evil plan for poisoning young couples out for a walk in DC at night, right?

    — Craig

  7. I once followed a guy halfway through Kuala Lumpur to talk to his uncle… So unskeptical a story it’s embarassing, but I got a tiny adventure out of it. And all it cost me was a voluntary donation of some ringits I’d probably just have lying around still. :D

  8. I was walking down Hollywood blvd just West of the Egyptian theater once and these nice young people in blue shirts asked me if I wanted to take a personality test. And that their book, don’t recall the title something about science in the title and it had a volcano on the cover, would change my life. But I was suspicious, plus I was kind of late for my movie so I walked on. I often wonder what my life would be like had I taken their test.

  9. I bought a pair of knock-off Oakley sunglasses once at a festival. I figured they were probably knock-offs but thought “what the hell”. They were very cheap but they broke within a week.

  10. I always think everything is a scam. That’s why I’m still alive.

    Seriously, I never go for these random approaches on the street. Maybe I missed some golden opportunities, but I doubt it.

    If you buy electronics off the street in NYC you’ll probably wind up with a box with a brick in it.

  11. I once gave a young couple $5 for “gas” money,when they stopped me in a grocery store parking lot,saying that they were from out of town,and stranded,and that she was pregnant,and they really needed to get back home.I was skeptical of course,but I also felt like I would hate to be in a similar situation,and not be able to get any help,so I gave them the money.Since then,I have encountered the exact same story at least half a dozen times,as well as multiple variations on the theme.
    What really bugs me about those scams,is not that they are trying to get something for nothing,but that they make me leery of anyone who approaches me for help,because I really like helping someone out in need,but I really,really HATE being taken advantage of and being lied to!

  12. It happen to me once. Two guys in a pick up truck were asking everyone they saw if they wanted to buy a stereo system. Said no, memorized the plate, and then called the cops. There was no way in hell that stereo wasn’t stolen.

  13. Two days ago I had the same thing happen to me at Westfield Shopping Town Strathpine. Two guys pulled up in a van and offered me a home entertainment system. Told them I already had one that was as big as the room it was in allowed, and they gave up. Their registration number was Queensland 003JZZ. Should I give them to the police?

  14. My supervisor told me the story of his son in New Orleans (before Katrina) who was approached with a similar sounding scam, but when he got close, he got punched in the face and robbed of his wallet, watch and ring and loose change.

    Well, back to my Stargate SG-1 marathon. Onto season 6.

  15. @migal:

    Well, back to my Stargate SG-1 marathon. Onto season 6.

    Yeah, good luck there. I was Stargate SG-1 marathoning for the 3rd time, but Corrin Nemec, or whatever his name is, annoyed me too much this time ’round. I might just skip to season 7.

  16. As for me, the absolute fucking worse scam I’ve ever experienced wasn’t for money. I got pulled aside on the street by what sounded like an American tourist. I was running a bit late, but thought she needed help with directions, so I slowed to a stop, prepared to give her directions, if I could. Turned out, she just wanted to preach her woo at me (hari krishna). Makes me fucking angry, even now. I genuinely thought she needed help, and now, I’m just all kinds of skeptical with people who are trying to get my attention now. Although, it has to be said, the sneakiests sonsofbitches still tend to be those pedo-fuck christian cocksuckers.

  17. Before I became a skeptic I may have believed this, but most of my non-skeptical on-the-street issues dealt with money related scams. For example, one time I ran into a couple of people at the bus stop and they were asking for money because they had just been robbed after recently coming to the city. In the course of the situation it was *I* who ended out getting robbed. It wasn’t an armed robbery and there was never any attempt at coercion, but looking back at it I was incredibly stupid and naive because I ended out being driven by them to an ATM. Getting into an unknown car with strangers was beyond stupid and could have turned out really badly for me. Luckily all it ended out costing me was a couple of hundred dollars rather than my life.

    Now, my skeptical radar is more aware of my surroundings and the things to be cautious of and I am very grateful for that.

  18. I got a call from the real estate agent that helped us buy our house. He said he had an idea for a web-based business and wanted to talk to me about it, but wouldn’t give me any details over the phone. It smelled funny, but I respected the guy. I am a web developer, so it made sense he’d come to me and be cautious about sharing his ideas. So I made an appointment for when I knew my wife wouldn’t be home (so she wouldn’t have to suffer through it if it was a scam).

    He showed up at my house with 2 other people (didn’t mention them) that he introduced as his associates. The main guy, a real aggressive, sleazy type took the lead in pitching. His wife, equally sleazy, took the role of supporter. My real estate agent was the pup, mostly in a learning role.

    “Real_estate_agent didn’t tell you anything about the business, did he? Good. He wasn’t supposed to.”

    I was shocked at how polished their presentation was. They had full color glossy brochures printed on heavy stock, a professional looking DVD (the case/DVD art, I didn’t accept it or let them play it), charts and graphs. And they asked questions like “A year from now, would you like to have the same amount of money you have now, less than you have now, or more than you have now?”, ditto free time, ditto security, etc. These questions were not rhetorical. The options were written in the brochure and you pointed to them.

    He took me step-by-step through the brochure. All the while, I kept thinking “how are they going to show the pyramid?”. About 5 pages in, they showed the classic pyramid scheme chart, but they only filled in one path. The others were represented by ellipses, but my mind immediately filled it to the correct pyramid shape. I was shocked that such an otherwise slick demo would include that in such an obvious form.

    “I know when I go to the supermarket, I almost fall asleep from boredom”

    Anyway, it was a pyramid scheme, except instead of just money (illegal), you agreed to buy all kinds of boring household items (TP, paper towels, dish soap, deodorant, etc.) over the web, with everyone upstream of you getting a cut.

    I let them finish their presentation. In the end, I said ‘no’ calmly and unapologetically (unusual for me, I’m a wuss), refused to accept the brochure/video/etc., refused to “talk it over with the wife”, refused to give my blessing to receive a call next week “in case I changed my mind”, refused to pretend I would give their number to any friends/family who might be interested.

    The two associates were pissed (red-faced, heavy breathing, clipped speech), but just barely keeping the pretense of being polite. Real estate agent was embarrassed. I was almost gleeful.

    It was the strongest ‘no’ I had ever given to anybody about anything. And it still makes me smile when I think about it.

  19. A few weeks ago, on an NYC subway, a guy started up a shell game — you know, where they move a ball around under three shells and you bet where it ends up. He was getting attention. I was nearing my stop, so I stood up and started loudly explaining to the passengers how the scam works, how it’s a street variation of a magic trick, and why you can not win. I got some chuckles, and from the guy I got a nasty look that made me glad I was stepping off the train….

  20. i was in a grocery parking and asked for emergency gas money, but was broke. then two days later saw the very same person asking every one in the same parking lot for gas money. there are pro panhandlers.

  21. @Draconious

    Was I being TOO skeptical? I mean, it’s not like the guy tried to rip me off, and I highly doubt that he had some kind of evil plan for poisoning young couples out for a walk in DC at night, right?

    I used to have a dish of cat food outside my basement apartment window for a neighborhood stray. One night at 2am, there was a knock on my door. I opened it to find a sealed can of tuna. My then-GF, now wife and I talked it over for probably an hour and eventually threw it out. I think we were too skeptical. Probably someone just saw the dish I kept there and, in a drunken display of charity, decided to contribute. I kind of feel bad that I likely slighted someone’s charity.

  22. I posted an ad on an online classified advertising my services as a bagpiper. Within a week, I got an e-mail from a guy wanting to purchase “my services”. I immediately suspected a scam because he didn’t specify what services he wanted, when or where. But I decided to string him along for a while. I fired off an e-mail asking what the event was, where it would be held, how long I would be required, and what I should play.

    The only answer I got was that I would be needed in Colorado (I live in northern British Columbia), and that he would pay any amount.

    I informed him that there were many bagpipers in Colorado and that he should seek out someone there. I asked again what the event was, when and what I should play.

    He said he was only interested in me, and asked me to send him as estimate of what I required. He still didn’t answer questions about the event or what I should play.

    I sent him a detailed budget including airfare (first class) from my town to Denver, hotel accommodation (5 star) for 2 nights in Denver, rental vehicle (biggest I could find) for 2 days, per diem ($100/day), hourly fees for myself including travel time ($75/hr for travel, $200/hr for bagpiping), purchase of a full piping uniform ($1,500 – I have my own, but what the heck – could always use a new kilt), and rental of an elephant.

    I think the total came to around $15,000. He said sure.

    I sent him an e-mail asking him if he thought i was really that stupid and informed him that I had sent the entire exchange to the RCMP and Interpol (not that I did). Never heard from him again.

  23. The only thing I’ve bought off the back of the truck were some very nice house plants. Not sure if they were stolen or what (who would steal house plants to sell on the black market? And who would buy black market plan… oops).

    My standard line when anyone calls or approaches me in public (or over the phone, or at the door) is “I don’t accept solicitations.” Some people look puzzled and some people are offended. It’s FUN to know big words!

  24. @here_fishy: the Jejune Institute was brought up here before. I believe we found out that they were a “performance group” based in San Fransisco and that they have an elaborate “show” that they put on at their “institute” and that it is very well worth the time to share it with your skeptical friends. (without revealing the Poe in advance)

  25. During the summer, I always seem to run into scam artists downtown. One offered me a box of electronics, but I assumed it was stolen.

    Mostly, it’s a variation of “I need money to buy a ticket” or “I opened the cab door without asking you. Give me money!”

  26. I remember about 20 years ago my parents almost got taken in by one of those Nigerian money scams.

    This was before email so they got the a letter by mail, it was long before these scams were well known. They talked to the guy and promised to help him but decided it was probably a scam when he said he needed some money from us to make things work.

    It wasn’t until years later when I was in college and email exploded that I found out that the scam had become common.

  27. As both a cop and a skeptic, I assume everyone I don’t know well is lying to me all of the time, and assume the people I do know well are lying to me much of the time. I’m still waiting for my wife to explain how our marriage is somehow a money-making scam for her. :)

    When it comes to people asking for money on the street, details are the key to telling something is bogus. People in a real dire situation don’t have a back story prepared.

  28. Back in the early ninties I had a guy approach me at work trying to get me to invest an idea to create a “hologram television”. ie something that was way beyond the technology of the time. I was really annoyed that he would throw his pitch at me while I was AT WORK, but later decided he was probably distacting me from some confederate out on the floor.

    @tmac57: At the same company there was a woman with two young boys who was always begging out front, for money for a room or gas or whatever. Actually, she had the boys begging. Rain or shine. I never gave them money, and then one day I passed them at one of the ritziest malls in town.

    And then there’s the company I was working for, Blockbuster Video. They gave raises every 6 months, at the most $.25, and my boss usually got in trouble for giving me that much. They froze my pay at $5.80, and made a big deal of the fact that I was the highest paid person of my level in the county.

    A couple months later the CEO was asked in an interview about the huge sums of money the company was investing in entertainment, and he said “You have to understand this company makes so much money we have to find ways to spend it.”

  29. My brother once invited me out not telling me anything about what was planned. Turned out it was a network sales/pyramid scheme recruiting show for something called the Alpha Club. I stayed through the whole thing and also sat for at least an hour with my brother and one of their pitch men. He was really agressive, especially when he realized I was going to talk my brother out of their crap as well, going so far as to talk about violence.
    Turned out my brother had been recruited by a friend and mainly wanted support in asking for his money ($6000 membership fee) back. Which he did, and a few months later the company was under investigation for fraud.

  30. Surely the point of this scam is that you’re _meant_ to think that the goods are stolen. The idea is to appeal to people’s greed for a bargain.

    The reality is that you will end up overpaying for either crappy knock-off merchandise or a box full of rolled-up newspapers. And then what are you going to do – call the cops and complain that you didn’t get the stolen goods you were hoping for?

  31. Like my Grandfather used to tell me: ” If it sounds too good to be true, it is.” Greed makes people stupid.

    @tmac57: When someone askes me for cash like that, I offer to take them to a restaurant and buy them a meal or to a gas station to put some gas in their car for them. Seperates the scammers from the truly desperate.

    @Bjornar: Are you sure that wasn’t Amway in disguise? :-) I love those pyramid schemes…After a few levels, you’re trying to recruit the entire US into your pyramid…Good luck with that.

    @Weatherwax: I suppose reinvesting in the company, giving the shareholders a dividend or donating some of it to a charity never occurred to that CEO…

    @redsky: If the can was truly factory sealed, I would have accepted the donation in the spirit it was given. It is virtually impossible to tamper with an unopened can. Bags, etc. no way.

  32. I work in East London, so I get offered untold amounts of stolen goods.. one of my clients’ employees unknowingly bought a fake iphone from a pikey for £150, after just a couple of weeks before buying a tv which was essentially a box with a couple of bricks in it.

    I bought a full set of big name kitchen knives in a fancy briefcase. It crossed my mind that they were knockoffs or stolen but they were cheap (I haggled down to £15) and I tested the blades and they were good. It only dawned on me later that I probably shouldnt use dodgy cutlery on stuff I plan on eating. I dont know where they’ve been, after all

  33. Finally registered here just so I could tell this story.

    Years ago (when cell phones were still called car phones) I was desperately unemployed and answered an ad in the paper about a company that was “expanding our office…”. You know, the type that only gives first names for contacts.

    So, I answered it and asked what type of jobs they had available because I don’t do sales. They assured me they had something for me and invited me to come in for an interview.

    The interview included another person who seemed really excited about the job. I reiterated that I would do office work but not sales. They said they had something for me and that I needed to attend a “training class”.

    The training class was all about how much money one could make at the company. I didn’t pay much attention because it didn’t seem to mention my “office work”. Was told to come back the next morning for more “training”. I still kept saying that I would not do sales, especially door-to-door.

    Arrived the next morning with a bunch of employees and some newbies. There was a presentation about the product to be sold that day–some luggage. We were then divided up to head out with a leader. I kept saying I wasn’t going to do sales but they said that everyone needed to join the training.

    We get in the leaders car and head to a nearby city. The leader starts telling us that after we sell (at office buildings) out there, we’ll come back and have to write a check to the company for “security” so if we ran off with the valuable merchandise the company wouldn’t lose out. I said there was no way I was going to do that. She said I’d have to if I wanted the job. The 3 other newbies didn’t say anything. I told her to take me back to the office now. I’ll give her credit as she turned around (about 15 minutes out) and took me back.

    I have rarely felt so violated in my life. I don’t think I went back into the office (I think she said no one was even there now), just got in my car and went home.

    I’ve become much more skeptical since then. But I do think I asked the right questions and was leery of the whole thing, but I had no idea people would lie so baldly to me.

    Oh, and one more little story. At around the same time an ex-boyfriend called me (I was excited about that) and said he’d started selling Rainbow vacuums and wondered if he could practice on me. I told him I loved my vacuum and would definitely not be buying but he could practice selling with me.

    He gave me a hard sell (not the type of hard I really wanted from him!) trying to figure out how he could fit the monthly payments into my (non-existent) budget. He even called his “manager” to get him to talk to me.

    He even got mad when I didn’t buy. What a jerk!
    He got mad even though I’d been up front from the beginning. Ughhhh.

  34. @QA

    If the can was truly factory sealed, I would have accepted the donation

    That’s what I came up with much later. At the time, the weirdness overwhelmed any good analytical thinking. It took a half hour just to figure out that the can of tuna was likely a contribution to the stray cat feeder.

  35. My girlfriend, who is desperately looking for a job, asked me a while ago if she should apply for kleeneze (, but she wasn’t sure since they asked for £80 (which is normally WAY more than she has, she would have pretty much spent her birthday money on it) advance fee… I told her not to, mainly because it reminded me just SO MUCH of the P&T: Bullshit! episode about pyramid schemes… the problem is, in all my research about them, I came across almost exclusively positive reviews, which are probably written by kleeneze themselves, so I worry that a lot of people who do research on them get fooled. I dunno, maybe you guys could make a post about them? So the information becomes more accesible? ^^
    *waits for kleeneze people to invade Skepchick to refute his claim that they are a scam*

  36. Re: begging/panhandling

    There used to be a regular woman working Penn Station NYC asking for train fare home. She approached me at least half a dozen times over about two years.

    On my first trip into NYC, for a job interview, I was approached by a homeless guy who asked for a quarter. I lied and said I only had dollar bills. His reply was that he had change.

    I laughed so hard I gave him $5.

  37. @QuestionAuthority: Not Amway no. Thinking about it it wasn’t really network sales. The $6000 fee gave you a service where, whatever you were planning to purchase, you could call the Alpha Club and they’d be able to give you great discounts. Not on groceries of course, but on cars and insurance and travel. And of course you could earn back part of the fee by recruiting friends and family…

  38. The scam I have run into most often lately has been occurring at gas stations. At xmas I drove to FL to visit my sister. The drive was from Ohio…about 15 hours and in that time at 3 different gas stations during this one trip I was approached by a man with the same story. “I have my wife and young infant in the car and we left on this trip without any money and could you please pay for my gas”. Short answer NO. I have had this happen to me before on other trips but not 3 times on the same trip. I am going to start wearing my “Do I look like people person” T-shirt on trips from now on. Only one of the three started to protest my lack of sympathy and quickly ended it when I pulled out my phone.

  39. I’m definitely over-skeptical. Like @DiscordianStooge: , I assume everything anyone says to me is a lie and any stranger who is talking to me is trying to get my money undeservedly. I also assume (knee-jerk style) that all discounts, deals, sales, and any other kind of marketing techniques, even by reputable companies, are scams.

    I’m kind of the opposite of my brother-in-law who assumes the best about everyone. One of those telephone magazine subscription sales people got a hold of him once and ten minutes in had him committed to subscriptions to over 20 magazines before my father-in-law stepped in and sorted it all out.

    @redsky: I had a roommate in college who got roped into a pyramid scheme (“your own online shopping mall”). I listen to the pitch, explained that it was a pyramid scheme and tried to talk him into trying to get out of it.

    Weeks later he agreed with me and got out (with some financial damage) but months later started getting box upon box of some pseudoscientific “vitamin sprays” from yet another pyramid that I heard the pitch for and tried to talk him out of. He eventually agreed with me and got out (much more financial damage this time).

    A year after we moved out, we had lunch together to catch up. He pitched to me a “scholarship program” he had joined. This time, pure naked pyramid, no product, just money (Pay money in, name goes on a list, when they get to your name you get money). I struggle for a way to express how disappointed this made me.

    @Scopes Monkey Matt: A guy was running a similar shell game right next to me on the Chicago El one time. There was a woman and a high school student sitting by me that seemed curious so I was explaining it to them. I pointed out that one guy kept walking across the train car to place increasing bets and kept winning and that he was working with the guy doing the trick. The guy (a big guy) heard me and got in my face yelling “Man, WHAT!?”. . . We were at my stop, hooray!

  40. She could have asked him for a deposit paid up front. If it arrived, book the flight and hotel and see what happens. Of course, don’t tell the guy the room or flight numbers!

    It is a weird story.

  41. So many different scams out there these days.

    I’ll echo what a lot of you have said, that I just have a distrust for everyone, across the board. It’s a shame that has to be our default position.

    Remember the good old days when the only person we had to look out for was the guy chewing on a toothpick, flipping a nickel.

  42. Since we’ve gotten into panhandling territory, I’ve got another story.
    There’s been a guy on the subway (G and L lines are where I often see him) who has been collecting the last $18 needed to buy flowers for his grandson’s grave for the past 5 years, at least. He’s always carrying a newspaper article with details of the shooting that happened ‘In the Marcy Projects, last week. I KNOW YOU ALL SAW THIS ON THE NEWS!’ It’s always ‘just last week’ for years now.
    He yells. A lot. And goes on and on about helping each other out, race shouldn’t matter, community… etc. All of which I agree with.
    However, he’s a fucking liar. Preying on a captive audience’s emotions.
    I always want to say something about how he’s been collecting that last $18 for years now, but I know how it would sound to those who have never heard him. I’d sound like a dipshit. Also, he’s LOUD and bigger than me.
    Happily I haven’t seen him in a while.

  43. Has anyone had the “vietnam vet” panhandler? I had one who claimed so when I was last in the states. I assume it’s a common claim. Knowing it was likely a scam, I still felt pretty obligated to give him money.

  44. I just remembered another one that I’m sure a million people have fallen for. I got an e-mail from “PayPal” asking me to update my account. I have a PayPal account, so I clicked on the link, which took me to a page that looked exactly like PayPal’s login page. The only difference was that the address at the top didn’t begin with and the little lock that shows a secure page wasn’t present. I had to look really carefully at the page to figure that out, but I wonder how many people have fallen for it?

  45. @here_fishy: It’s easy to make a link, in either a web page or an email, that looks like a link to one page but is actually a link to another. You just use the same method you use to make a word or a phrase into a link, but you use the pretend URL as the phrase: [a href=real-url] pretend URL [/a], substituting angle brackets for the square ones I used.

    A good browser or mail client should pop up the actual URL when you hover over it, and you should always pause to do this and note if it makes sense before you click. There may be less obvious ways to accomplish the same deception, so you should check the destination (especially if it’s anything financial or a link to a download of some sort) after the new page loads. But the hover for a second method eliminates a large portion of phony links. Anything having to do with a financial transaction (banks, stores, etc.) that requires or should require a login, should have https:, not http: as the first part of the link, and should not have encoded characters (3-digit sequences) or numeric IP addresses ( Also beware of anything with the wrong country code (your bank is probably not in Bulgaria unless you are Bulgarian) or .org, .bus, .info, etc. substituted for .com.

    Like the argent used to say on Hill Street Blues, “be careful out there.”

  46. @Buzz Parsec: The easiest thing to do is just go directly to the companies homepage yourself, and not use the email link.

    @NoAstronomer: When I was a kid my dad and I were at the train station, putting me on a train to Santa Barbara, when a young man asked my dad to buy him a ticket to Chicago. My dad said “Son, I’m from Chicago, and I couldn’t do that to anybody.”

    @MicroIScool: One day my regular station in Arcata was really backed up, and I had to wait about 10 minutes to get to a pump. I’d no sooner started when a guy got out of the car in front of me and asked for gas money. I had to wait ten minutes in line and this dickhead was sitting at a pump panhandling! I was so pissed off I went straight to the clerk and complained. The guy denied he was panhandling, but quickly drove off.

    The panhandling in that town was unbelievable. One day a friend and I were sitting in the local park talking, and we were hit up for money 5 times in less than twenty minutes. And it’s even worse, now.

  47. I was a long-distance truck driver, teamed with my now-ex-husband for a couple of years. I pulled into a busy truck stop and parked late one night, then sat behind the wheel just unwinding and watching the “show” (other trucks trying to park), when a knock came at my window. It was a young woman, asking for some gas money – said she had her small kid in the car and just needed twenty bucks to get home. All I had was a five, which I gave to her.

    Later, after he woke up, my husband said she was probably a “lot lizard” (read: hooker) hitting up a female driver as an easy mark; quicker and cleaner than her usual line of work.

    You know, he was probably right (though I didn’t see her again, and I did keep looking). But I decided then, and I still feel, that in that situation I’d rather be taken for a chump by a hooker than turn down a sister in genuine need. In the same situation, I’d do it again. (Especially since it was only five bucks.)

    But I have learned to spot scams, too. Not always successfully – sometimes I have to learn from experience. Don’t we all?

  48. I could be wrong about whether or not this was a scam, but about a week after the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 I went to the grocery store and a guy came up to me saying that his church was raising funds for the victims of the tsunami and asked if I could give. He didn’t say which church he was with, so I said I gave at my workplace (which wasn’t a lie) and moved on.

  49. I get a lot of people at my door wanting to sell me meat out of a truck, same story, store ordered too much, blah blah blah.. Yeah, thanks but no thanks.

    A few years ago at my job a girl came in wearing a long prairie style dress and carrying a box of ornaments with a sign about how she was deaf, and was selling these ornaments for $20 a piece to raise money for abstinence in Liberia. I wondered out loud why they needed money for abstinence, since with abstinence you don’t have to buy condoms or birth control, and she left quickly. I assume she wasn’t actually deaf, nice scam though. In the Bible belt where I live I bet it raised a lot of cash.

  50. So these Jehovah’s Witnesses showed up at the house last summer. After about 30 minutes of discussion, I did not end up buying what they were selling…

  51. Heh. Last week I heard a pitch for something called ‘network marketing’, looks a hell of a lot like a pyramid scheme but apparently has something to do with Robert Kiyosaki’s self-help stuff.

    Apparently, though, the premise is that you just get 2-3 people and then work with them to get more people under them, or something like that. It wasn’t a big, burly pitchman either — the person pitching it was a friend of a friend’s. No idea on whether it’s a scam though, the company is called FTHM and is based in Lexington, KY. Apparently it’s been around since 2001 (’05 in Canada), but wiki-fu turns up nothing.

  52. @literaghost: The company is Fortune High-Tech Marketing, and it’s a pyram, er…multilev, er…’network marketing’ company, that’s it. Apparently we’re supposed to sell a variety of things from cell phone service to office programs, but the sales p, er…’introductionary interview’ focused a lot on getting other people to sign up as sales re, er…’managers’. I’m going to a, um…’corporate meeting’ on Wednesday where I can ask such beautiful questions as I have about the mathematics of the program or how we are not essentially selling the company to other people and why such focus is put on recruiting if it is not a pyramid scheme.

    That being said, the research I’ve done on MLM makes me wish that there was more hard information out there on it. So far I’ve got a very limited set of resources, most of them fairly dated, yet this is as much a scam as alternative medicine and faith healing =/

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