- Internet & the Web
The Fake Social Proof, When Scams Review Scams and Declare them NOT Scams
Social proof is is a psychological phenomenon where people do what other people do simply to conform. They assume that other people around them possess more knowledge about the situation to act more appropriately. It is then no surprise that fraudsters have resorted to manufacture social proof in order to push their own message to the victims, in order to trick the victims into handing over their money willingly.
Fake Social Proof was nothing new. People need social proof of their own worth, and there are many ways to fake it. Some just act rich through borrowing, while others will RENT social proof. Remember the movie "Can't Buy Me Love", that basically launched the career of Patrick Dempsey? That's a romantic comedy about a high school nerd who will pay the cheerleader $1000 to act as his girlfriend for a month. It was remade in 2003 as "Love Don't Cost a Thing". The nerd needs social proof that he's cool, so he resorted to manufacture such proof through money.
However, a romantic comedy is a fantasy, in a world of make-believe. Fraud is real and a tragedy waiting to happen.
Social proof can be used for good... or evil. And the most common form of fake social proof are shills.
Shills Bidders, Shill Buyers, and Shill Reviewers
Some of the simplest social proof are shills. And there are three kinds: shill bidders, shill buyers, and shill reviewers.
If you've been on eBay, you may have ran into a shill bidder or two. Shill bidders are fake bidders whose only job is to jack up the bidding price but have no intention of actually buying the item. S/he is probably in collusion with the seller, whether formally or informally. There are a lot of rules on eBay that forbids shilling for anyone, and if you're caught, you'll be punished severely.
There are often shills buyers at sales seminars. The organizer will talk about the stuff they're trying to sell for an hour, then at the end they'll offer some lessons or whatever for sale. You may see people jump up and immediately rush to the sales table and pluck down their money or credit card. Those are likely to be shill buyers, recruited by the organizers pretending to buy up the "limited offer" items thus forcing some doubters to hurry up and buy what's left.
Nowadays, with the popularity of reviews on websites (iTunes, Amazon, TripAdvisor, Epinions, and so on), a new type of shills have popped up... the shill reviewers, who leave glowing reviews and/or testimonials of whatever's being sold without having ever tried it. You can often find people offering to write testimonials for you for a mere $5 on Fiverr(dot)com.
The common thread is they are all fakes, to create false impression that may cost you money, but not directly. However, the next kind, the "fake degree", will cost you dearly, in many ways.
Fake Universities and Fake Accreditation Bodies
Fake diplomas are easy to find. You can even find websites that will make some up for you, or you can order them on fancy paper that you can frame yourself.
But have you ever heard of fake universities? It's a university that claims to offer "degrees" for thousands of Dollars or Euros, and give you a nice diploma for "life experience", without you taking a single class, meeting a single professor, or pass a single exam.
Many were operated by a single guy... Salem Kureshi, from his home in Pakistan. His "empire" of fake schools includes the following:
- Northern Port University
- Panworld University
- McFord University
- Belford University
- Belford High School
- Headway University
- Corllins University
- Ashwood University
- Rochville University
- MUST University (fake clone of MUST.edu)
- OLWA University
- and possibly more I haven't listed
All of them only exists as websites, and all of them will give you a "degree" for "life experience" if you pay them hundreds to thousands of dollars. The degree could be in ANYTHING, from journalism to thoracic surgery (I was NOT kidding) It is estimated that 200000 fake diplomas were sold by these scams every year. The people who "enrolled" did little more than watching TV and read a book or two.
These are even more of a scam than those "fake diploma makers" because it at least with fake diplomas you know they're fake These actually lead the buyers to believe they're getting a "real" degree.
What's more hilarious is Kureshi went as far as creating a fake accreditation body for his various "universities", called GACOA: Global Accreditation Council for Online Academia. He's not alone though. There are so many of these fake accreditation bodies, that Wikipedia has an entry of them. No doubt many were created by Kureshi himself.
So far, only Belford had been shut down by a class action lawsuit from the US in September 2012, and Saleshi was ordered to pay $22.7 million. It is unknown if any money had been paid. Among the six domains to be turned over by the scammer includes:
The last one is interesting, as it basically had the scammer claiming his scam was not a scam. Unfortunately, this was a VERY common tactic on the Internet.
Scammers Say Their Scam is Not a Scam
There was an internet meme... on the internet, nobody knows if you're a dog. Thus, you can almost lie with impunity if you do it carefully and sparingly.
Scammers often do this sort of thing, by creating a website selling a scam item X (let's just say: itemx.com), then also register itemxscam.com. As domain names figure into search engine optimization, their own domain would figure highly on the search engine results. Now all they need to do is state on the "scam" domain that "item X is not a scam". That's a lot like having the fox guard the henhouse.
However, search engine specialists actually recommend this tactic for legitimate companies (though they also go as far as recommending registration of variants, such as "sucks", "fraud", and so on)
Here's an example. TVI Express, at tviexpress(dot)com, is a scam that was shut down in multiple countries, and its owner Tarun Trikha arrested in India. There is no doubt that it's a scam.
So what does TVIScam(dot)net say? You guessed it... "not a scam".
As expected, at the end this author offered up his (or her) own review, which of course, is in glowing terms, and offers to recruit you into something (either TVI Express or something else).
People have been arrested for running TVI Express pyramid selling scam all over the world. It is a scam, and some people are just in too deep to see it.
It's understandable that those people involved may be too blind to see it. But what about "mentors" and "coaches"? Shouldn't they know better? Apparently not.
"Network Marketing Coaches" Said Scam Was Not Scam
One or two members saying a scam they're involved in is not a scam is almost understandable, as they're in too deep and is blind to the schemes faults. However, there are so-called MLM "coaches" that point at scams and offer to train you in them.
TVI Express was a great example, as it had been around for many years (started in 2009/2010), and was thrown out of multiple countries that there is absolutely NO DOUBT it is a scam several times over.
Are there any so-called "MLM Coaches" who offer to train you in it? There are plenty of them. Here is one such person, whose website is STILL available even today, May 2013... "TVI Success Secrets".
So who is Marc Barrett? He's not a newbie to network marketing. According to his own website, he has been in this business for close to two decades, having risen to top level multiple times. He even collaborated or contributed to a few books on MLM, according to his own website.
Why would he offer training for a proven scam, even though it had been kicked out of the US in 2010? His decade of experience in network marketing apparently was NOT enough to help him detect a pyramid scheme, but instead, he offered to train people on how to succeed in a pyramid scheme.
But wait, there are people who was even WORSE than him! Here's a "big brother" who points at multiple scams, and proclaim they are NOT scams!
The "Big Brother" Who Said Scams are NOT Scams
Who is this Brandon Inchauriga, you ask? He goes by "MLM Big Brother" online, but he won't show his face. This is what his Facebook page usually looks like:
And on his MLMBigBrother website, he has reviews of TVI Express, FHTM, and Zamzuu.
What did he say about TVI Express?
Yep, he said TVI Express is NOT a scam, even though I provided PLENTY of links above, that proved beyond a doubt TVI Express is a scam, in multiple countries on multiple continents, and its owner was arrested not too long ago.
Now, what about FHTM, i.e. Fortune Hi-tech Marketing? It was shut down in early 2013 by FTC as a pyramid scheme. What did Brandon say about this proven scam? You guessed it... He said it's not a scam.
Okay, what about Zamzuu, i.e. YTBI? This was a proven pyramid scheme that was sued by then-Attorney General of California Jerry Brown out of California as a pyramid scheme. They paid 1 million in fines and promised a bunch of reforms and not to cheat Californians. They were then also sued by Illinois and Rhode Island.
Guess what Brandon Inchauriga said about Zamzuu / YTBI? You guessed it... "not a scam".
Did Brandon know about these schemes being scams? The answer is absolutely yes. These three were ALREADY scams when he published the reviews in 2011. Here's a screenshot of his index as of August 2011 (note: his website template has since been changed, but the dates are accurate).
Now here's some timelines:
TVI Express was issued a "cease and desist" by state of Georgia in August 2010, a FULL YEAR before Brandon claimed it's not a scam.
FHTM was kicked out of Montana as of March 2010 as a pyramid scheme, over a YEAR BEFORE Brandon claimed it's not a scam.
Zamzuu / YTBI was sued out of California in August 2008, THREE YEARS before Brandon claimed it's not a scam.
Brandon Inchauriga, aka "MLM Big Brother", pointed to scams, and said they're not scams.
And he won't even dare to show his own face. (In fact, he threatened to sue me for showing his face that he posted to his own Facebook page, but that's another story).
But there's someone even WORSE than Brandon here... Someone who not only created a suspicious scheme and charged money for it, he also created fake social proof, not once or twice, but about a dozen times, including alleged "scambusting" websites, attempting to "certify" his suspicious scheme as "not scam".
Scammers Who Say They Are Scambusters
Ever seen a banner or review of "Online Home Careers"? You'll be lead to the website above, where they'll sell you a "system" for $100 where you spam links to random places and supposedly make lots of money doing so. Links probably lead to itself and other suspicious schemes, and the links probably say something like "I made $3000 today and so can you, click here". Used to see them on Gawker, Lifehacker, and such until they really started moderating that place.
The website itself is already suspicious. The banner of Fox News, CNBC, USA Today, ABC, and CNN looks impressive, until you look a bit closer. It says "Work At Home Opportunities Have Been Featured on:". It does *not* say this particular opportunity had been featured on those places. Even the banner itself had been stolen from some other suspect scam called "Instant Payday".
But who runs this outfit? Good question. It was registered through "Domain By Proxy", i.e. private registration. However, their own "secured by" button provided this clue:
Note the address given:
Online Home Careers
654 N 800 E Suite 322
Spanish Fork, UT 84660
Who provided this information? "Guaranteed Secure". Who's that? According to WHO.IS... Private Registration? We don't know who owns or runs this "guarantee secure"? Who is doing the "guarantee"? Is this another case of lunatics in charge of the asylum?
If you go to the website itself, you get absolutely nothing, just a logo. It's registered through "Domain by Proxy". You don't know the owner.
The only clue was the server IP address, 126.96.36.199
If you do a reverse IP search for domains on that address... you get...
Dang, that's a LOT of websites on the same server... Keep in mind that web servers are expensive and a single server by one company would be used for multiple websites.
See anything suspicious? So many, you should have alarm bells going off.
Why is the same server also running a scam-y sounding website with "profit" in the name?
Why is the same server also "reviewing" work at home opportunities?
Why is the same server also running various websites that sound like scambusters?
Why is the same server also running two "online-home-career" scam websites, when we have already documented that those websites are likely to be registered by the people who actually run online-home-career?
And who is this Zulu Marketing?
Apparently, Zulu Marketing runs this "Online Home Careers" website... same physical address, same physical web server.
Care to guess what the various scambuster sounding websites on the SAME SERVER say about Online Home Careers? Yep, you guessed it, "not a scam".
Now it's crystal clear and blatantly obvious:
Zulu Marketing created this suspicious link-spamming "opportunity" called "online home career" and is selling it for $100 (among various other things)
Zulu Marketing created various scambuster-sounding websites that gave this "opportunity" a clean bill of health.
Zulu Marketing created this "guaranteed secure" thing that implied it's a real business and certified its own "online home career" thing.
Zulu Marketing created the two 'scam' websites which, as expected, stated its own "online home career" was not a scam.
Zulu Marketing created the two "review" websites that also stated its "online home career" was not a scam.
Zulu Marketing CREATED various social proof around its suspicious "opportunity".
If this was political I'd call it "astroturfing" (fake grassroots), but this is just good old fakery, fake review, fake testimonial, fake certification, fake endorsement, fake credentials... it's ALL FAKE.
Have you been influenced by "manufactured" social proof?
So-called "evidence" on the Internet, such as ratings, reviews, and such are easily faked, shilled, and so on.
When you do your "due diligence" on any sort of opportunity, you cannot trust ANYTHING or ANYONE, unless it's corroborated by real evidence, not merely "concurrence".
You have to check the source of the information to see if they are reliable. Not all newspapers and TV news can be trusted, but they are more reliable than most. Websites can be faked.
You have to check if that information match OTHER reliable sources of information. Is the news item reported by multiple news outlets?
Once you got as much information as possible, and verified the bonafides of the information, THEN you can make up your own mind, and be satisfied that you really did the best you could based on the best information you have at the time.
P.S. Special thanks to JustTooMuchTime on Realscam forum for his help on some of the "proof" of the fakery above, and Consumer Watchdog of Botswana for lead on Salem Kureshi and his fake universities.
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