Don’t try to Scam a Skeptic

When a person becomes a skeptic that doesn’t necessarily make them suspicious or doubtful by nature, but it does train the bullshit detector to be more sensitive.

Recently someone attempted, unsuccessfully, to get an easy payday off a single dad, who therefore must of course be desperate for female attention. Yes, that single dad was me.

Many people have heard of the “Nigerian 419” scams, those emails you get where someone in a foreign country promises you a significant share of a large sum of money, which the fraudster requires a small up-front payment to obtain. Often they pose as a child of ousted royalty, or the benefactor of an inherence. Those emails have been going around since email was invented, and existed before the internet was around through traditional mail.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/419_scams

Sometime ago I came across an entertaining website called 419eater, which documents stories of people scamming the scammers, making up absurd stories, getting them to send objects, write notes, and jump through hoops to waste the scammers time.

from Urban Dictionary “A catfish is someone who pretends to be someone they’re not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.”

And that’s where our story begins, a tale of a Catfish/419 scam.

I have blocked the name and face used by the scammer in case it is someone’s real identity. I Googled for details and wasn’t able to find the name used in other places so I assume it’s a fake.

A few days ago I received this surprising message.

001

When I checked her Facebook page I saw a small number of friends, and that she lived in Florida. Ok, kind of strange.

002

At this point I already know I am being catfished; the offer to relocate to another country after one message is a sure sign of it. I’m still not sure if this is really the lady or not, could be a money scam or someone just having some fun with me, so I decided to see what I could get away with.

 

003

At this point I already know that this isn’t really the lady she says she is, using that “scan my passport” is a common tactic of the 419ers to try and “prove” their identity. Well I have a better way for someone to prove their identity, and if they don’t do it I know for certain that they are scammers. I searched Facebook for her name and found 3 identical names with profiles that had the same photos and details.

donna search censored

So I proposed my sure-fire way to expose a faker. Remember this kids, it is so simple, yet effective. No passport photo needed.

004aThat’s all it takes. A photo of them holding a paper with a custom note written on it, with their face visible, in a few minutes after you ask for it. That would have been pretty solid proof that this person is the Caucasian, redhead female she purports to be. I’ve done with before where it’s taken an hour to get the photo and it was so badly photoshopped that it was laughable. The eye can spot a fake.

005That’s it. When excuses are made as to why they can’t pass my little test then I have confirmation they are fake. Now I suspect that this will be a money scam because if it was a romantic scam she would have wanted to confirm at least her physical identity. Now I know it’s just a matter of time before a wire transfer of money will be requested, I’m just not sure how the request will come. Now it’s time to have some fun.

006

She said she had a scanner, so lets get some stuff scanned shall we? The point of doing this is to waste their time that they could be spending scamming other people who may fall for this stuff.

007First off, I don’t have 5 kids…. nor am I in The Tragically Hip, nor do I own 2 Boston Pizza franchises, nor did my wife die in an orgy; all information I relay later on in our conversation. The idea is to make things sound so absurd that they could only be false, so a regular person would question it and back off. But not the scammer, the scammer will go along with anything you say in order to extract the money out of you.

And she was kind enough to write and scan my requested note.

scott is da man

008Keep in mind that at this point I am just making up details about my life, if I’m going to engage in this process I’m going to have some fun with it.

009

It’s true that I’m not religious, but since she says she is I thought, OK, let’s see how far her religious sensibilities play down the line.

010Now I know that the money grab will have something to do with a problem with her ticket to get here.

011

She knows how to use Wikipedia.

012

At this point she talks about all of the many countries she’s been to while working in the fashion industry, all the while not having a smart phone that can take pictures mind you. I’m going to jump ahead into our conversation to the more relevant portions.

013Let me note, my wife and I were not swingers, nor did she die. I want to see how far I can push it before the scammer realizes that I am onto his/her game. When I’ve done this before they often realize that I am onto them and end the conversation when they see they are wasting their time, but not this one.

014

Fashion consultant that gets $45,000 per 11 month gig, had been doing it for 6 years, travels all over the world doing it but doesn’t have a website or a phone with a camera… I’m skeptical.

015I understand that you are a scammer a I’m going to provide a public service by wasting your time and documenting your actions.

016I didn’t bother to see if those were legit flight numbers, I assume an itinerary could be generated from a travel website.

And now another compliance test…

017letter

Click to enlarge. Funny, that sure looks like a photo taken with a camera phone flash, rather than a scanner.

018019If my mom reads this, sorry, I’ll take care of you if this ever happens 🙂

020Here comes the pitch.

021

Some BS photoshoped cheque. I didn’t get a screen grab but the issuer was “British Modelling Company”.

022a

Here’s the handwritten promisary note. Click to enlarge

promisary note

023So that was it. I reported the account to Facebook and blocked it, along with the 2 other identical accounts. About 20 minutes later I received a friend request from yet another identical account, reported it and blocked it.

The URLs were;
facebook.com/donna.(lastname)

facebook.com/donna.(lastname).7

facebook.com/donna.(lastname).9

facebook.com/donna.(lastname).37

They are all offline now. Goodbye Donna.

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Sometimes Conspiracy Theorists are Right

We might be used to scoffing at the notion of conspiracy theorists and their wild notions about melting steel, U.F.O’s and government cover ups, but we have to sometimes consider that they might actually be right.

A little bit of background; I grew up as a fan of pro-wrestling. I loved the drama and the athleticism, I was enough of a fan that I eventually trained to be a pro-wrestler. And while my short-lived career as a pro-wrestler was very short-lived (one 4-minute match) I was involved in the community and culture of pro-wrestling for many years. As such I learned the secrets to the craft, which are not so secret anymore…

The portrayal of events in pro-wrestling being “real”, such as the matches, interviews and storylines; is what’s known as “kayfabe“. The internet has more or less facilitated exposure all of pro-wrestling secrets, including the one that it is not legitimate sporting contests, but that it is an athletic exhibition, scripted and planned out to varying degrees. These facts being general public knowledge is fairly recent, only in the last 15 years or so. Before that, learning the secrets required you to be a part of the business, where the knowledge was handed down.

In the 1980’s there was a former pro-wrestler named Jim Wilson, he started making waves in the industry when he appeared on the tv show 20/20 along with fellow wrestler Eddie Mansfield in 1984.

The two of them explained the true nature of pro-wrestling to host John Stossel and demonstrated some of the techniques, such as “blading“, which is where a wrestler deliberately cuts himself with a blade to produce blood. Yes, most of the time when you see in blood in pro-wrestling it is real.

In addition to exposing the secrets, Wilson made claims that he was blackballed from wrestling because he rejected the sexual advances of a wrestling promoter in Australia.

Soon after the appearance on 20/20 Jim made an appearance on the Morton Downey Jr. show along with several active wrestlers. He was portrayed by most of the people present as a liar and a goof.

Here he is taking about blading.

Dr. David Schultz calls him a liar saying that blading doesn’t exist, and says that he has never bladed. While that last part may be true, everyone in the wrestling business knows about blading. In fact Schultz is the one who is lying and he makes ad-hominem attacks against Wilson calling him a homosexual.

Promoter Dennis Coralluzzo then comes on and attacks him for being a “jobber” (someone in wrestling who loses a lot) and asks him “what do you have to prove”.

Manager and future promoter Paul E. Dangerously came on via the phone and also attacked Wilson saying that he is out of wrestling because he didn’t produce ratings, not because he was blackballed.

After some time talking about racism in wrestling, legendary pro-wrestling manager Capt. Lou Albano comes on and makes many of the same claims that Schultz made, specifically that blading didn’t exist.

Another outright lie.

Lou goes on to say that whenever he wrestled and got beat, he got beat by the better man, implying that the matches are legitimate contests, another lie.

Then Morton Downey asks Lou Albano point-blank;

Do you guys know who’s going to win before the match starts?

Lou’s answer was that he never knew of any pre-arrangement, that no one ever came to him.

Let me be clear, pro-wrestling has been an athletic exhibition with pre-arranged outcomes for nearly 100 years.

Mrs. Lou Albano then comes on and says that Lou often came home battered, but Wilson never claimed that injuries weren’t real, she is essentially making a red herring argument.

Downey then asks Wilson point-blank;

Did they ever ask you to win or lose a match?

Wilson’s answer;

Yes, every night.

The other wrestlers present yell at him, call him a lair, call him a piece of garbage, throw a drink in his face, all while the crowd cheers the verbal abuse Wilson endures.

The rest of the show contains much of the same. You have a studio full of current and former pro-wrestlers, a hostile crowd, all directing their vitriol at Wilson, denying his claims. Wilson is the only one on the whole program that is telling the truth. We know that now, 20+ years later. The other people on the show were “protecting the business” and did their best to discredit Wilson by calling him a homosexual, a jobber, etc. They were all involved in a conspiracy to deceive the viewing public.

Now I am not necessarily condemning them for doing this though. Part of the culture of pro-wrestling at that time was to deny the exposure and defend the business no matter what. Even for Shultz, who was no longer active in the wrestling business at this point, it will still engrained into his psyche to protect the business.

The lesson to learn here is that a skeptic keeps an open mind and follows the evidence, we don’t know when a conspiracy theory might turn out to be true.

WARNING! This is NOT medicine.

I have 4 kids, they are all under 10 years old, so when there is an infectious health issue like a cold or flu it tends to spread amongst the whole household like we are living in a putrid petri dish; it’s best to avoid any of us during those occasions.

Recently one of those episodes saw me heading out to find some relief for my little ones’ sore throats. I was at Zellers in Winnipeg looking through the cough and cold section and I was dismayed that all of the cough suppression products I was finding were not for kids under 6 years old, which two of mine currently are. I was thinking about the hot water and  honey mixture I would be making for them instead to help their sore throats when I saw in big, bold lettering “Kids 0-9, Cough and Cold”.

Exactly what I was looking for!

As I read the description on the box I became increasingly hopeful.

“Relieve dry cough”, check

“Relieve congestions”, check

“SAFE – No side effects”, awesome

“Great Tasting”, even better

But as I reached the bottom of the box my heart did slump just a little as my joy over this seemingly magical, wonderful, solution-to-my-problems product was squashed.

“Homeopathic Medicine”

What a huge letdown.

Homeopathic “medicine” does nothing, it is not medicine. It has been shown through scientific trials to be nothing. For a primer about homeopathy check out Wikipedia and this talk by The Winnipeg Skeptics founder Gem Newman.

I took this package and walked up to the Pharmacy area at Zellers and asked them why they stock this non-medicine along beside actual medicine, why carry it at all? The answer is the same that I’ve gotten when questioning other pharmacists in the big box stores; “we don’t decide what to stock, it comes from corporate”. After saying that they often acknowledge that homeopathy is junk, along with other so-called medicines like ColdFX, but they don’t decide what to carry.

In fact one time a pharmacist at a big box store motioned over to an entire section in their store and said “everything over there is crap”; the area she was referring to stocked nutritional supplements, herbal remedies and “organic” items.

What’s the harm in this?

Simple. The fact that homeopathy is not actual medicine is not well understood by the general public. If a parent walked into Zellers that day as I did and bought this product expecting it to help their children they would be disappointed. They would have wasted their money on non-treatment when their child should be getting actual medicine that has a known efficacy.

To give a homeopathic treatment is to give no treatment; which in the case of a cough or cold is not too serious, but what if that child is running a fever? Has aches and pains? Well there is homeopathy for that too. “Flu Buster”.

 Again, to give a homeopathic treatment is to give no treatment, and I find it particularly offensive, and disgusting, to give parents a false sense of security, when they think they are helping their children that are in need of medicine and instead have been tricked into buying nothing.

And Kids 0-9 doesn’t stop there. They have a whole line of products to treat your infants that are suffering from allergies, earaches, colic, etc. This would be great if homeopathy actually worked, but it does not.

And now, enjoy this commercial from the good folks over at Homecan.

Judgement Day, in Winnipeg!

It’s coming! Run for your lives!

If you didn’t know, there is a group called Family Radio that have been putting billboards up all over the world touting May 21st 2011 as Judgement Day; the day Christ will return to Earth, bring forth the Rapture and save the believers. And then 5 months later on Oct 21, 2011, the end of the world will come.   

A lot has already been written about them, and in fact the Ask and Atheist radio show has put up the website “We Can’t Know“, in response to Family Radio’s “We Can Know“, website, so I won’t address their claims in this post, other than to say I am skeptical that Jesus is coming back on May 21, after he didn’t come back all of  these other predicted times as well.

I was very excited to see a billboard of theirs right here in Winnipeg! On the corner of Pembina and Grant, facing south, is this billboard.

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Pretty isn’t it? Go on down, take a look at it, take your picture in front of it, and prepare for the end! The Bible guarantees it, and the Bible has shown itselft to be a reliable document after all…