Tag Archives: Scams

Protect Yourself: Four Ways To Tell If Someone Is Trying To Emotionally Manipulate You

That salesperson may be trying to fool you. And perhaps your new boyfriend/girlfriend is, too. How can you tell?

As mentioned before (“How Do You Make Decisions?“), the reason that engineers are so successful at creating useful products is not because they are smarter than everyone else, it’s because their ideas are subjected to rigorous review. An engineer will be challenged by others during the review, mercilessly, to make sure that lousy ideas are squelched before they can do harm to the company’s profits or reputation. (Fear of embarrassment is a good motivator, so most engineers are well-prepared when they have to make a presentation.)

Therefore, whether you are considering the purchase of a product, the establishment of a new relationship, or for whom to vote in the next election, act as though you were going to have to justify your decision to a room full of tough-minded engineers. Remember, they will want to see your decision supported by research and logical analysis, not emotions or slogans.


1. Take My Word For It

People who are trying to sell you something can be very persuasive. But if they can’t back up their pitch with independent data (think Consumer Reports), beware. A lack of independent data is one of the best indicators of a dubious or fraudulent claim (e.g., see “Is EasyWater (The “No Salt Water Conditioner”) A Scam?“). Another example: Before you commit too much to a new relationship, find out what your prospective partner’s friends, acquaintances, and co-workers really think of him/her. Since many people will not offer negative information unless they’re asked, you might be very surprised at the answers you receive; e.g., “My son’s a lazy bum; I’m surprised you’re going out with him.”

2. Don’t Question Me, I’m The Authority

Be very wary of folks in positions of authority who bristle at your desire to ask questions, or to seek a second opinion. Although someone may speak with authority (“you need chemo”), there may be other equally-qualified experts who have different views (“whatever you do, don’t take chemo”). As a rule of thumb, true professionals will welcome your questions and encourage you to get other opinions.

3. This Will Solve All Your Problems

Avoid products or services that promise to quickly and simply solve all of your health / weight / relationship problems (a single vitamin supplement, an eat-all-you-want weight-loss plan, a “how to attract the man/woman of your dreams” with a breast/penis enlargement pill.)

4. Vote For Me And I’ll Protect You From Those Evil Folks Who Are Trying To Rip You Off

Unscrupulous politicians will try to gain your vote by:

a. trying to make you envious of others who have more money
b. running “us against them” ads
c. trying to make you feel that others who have a different skin color or ethnic background are out to take advantage of you
d. avoiding a discussion of specifics and resorting to generalized name-calling, such as:

-successful folks are greedy
-folks getting welfare/unemployment benefits are lazy cheats
-bankers, Wall Street workers, and insurance companies are crooks
-those who prefer community-based solutions, rather than federal mandates, are Social Darwinists who want to push grandma off a cliff
-folks who prefer a strong federal government are socialists or communists

e. using meaningless but emotionally-charged slogans (ET comments are in brackets):

-“tax breaks for the wealthy” [Who are the wealthy and why should they pay more? If  a person is very wealthy that does not mean that you must be less prosperous; in fact, the opposite is usually true. See “Why Pizzanomics Is Immoral“]

-“take back the country” [Is it missing? Has someone checked behind the couch cushions?]

-“affordable health care for all” [Why not food, clothes, autos, and iPads for all?]

-“liberals are un-American” [Which persons, specifically, and why?]

-“social justice” [A code word meaning, “we should eliminate income inequality.” But how can we make incomes equal without penalizing the industrious, the thrifty, and/or the lucky; i.e., without creating moral hazards?]

-“conservatives are stupid” [Which persons, specifically, and why?]

-“the 1% against the 99%” [See “More Thoughts On Forcing The Rich To Pay ‘Their Fair Share‘”]

-“only criminals want gun control” [As logical as “only gun owners want criminal control”]

-“we need government investment” [Governments do not invest; they just move money from the pockets of some citizens into the pockets of others, inefficiently (see “An Antidote For The Folly Of Government ‘Investment’“) and often in a corrupt fashion.]

-Ed Walker


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ET EXTRA: You’re Simply The Best (Now Send Us $)

Beware of “award” notifications from firms such as US Commerce Association.

This is a vanity scam, where a company such as US Commerce Association provides you a handsome award — for a price. A reputable organization will never ask you to pay for an award.


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ET EXTRA: Is Social Security A Ponzi Scheme?

fire Engineering Thinking Extra Is A Short Review Of A Current Hot Topic
Analysis: Using the generally-accepted definition of a Ponzi Scheme from this article…

The Williams plan to avert Social Security disaster” by Walter Williams, 10/03/11,

…and considering the following data from the article…

According to a 2002 Congressional Research Service report titled “Social Security Reform” by Geoffrey Kollmann and Dawn Nuschler, workers who retired in 1980 at age 65 got back all they put into Social Security, plus interest, in 2.8 years.

Workers who retired at age 65 in 2002 will have to wait a total of 16.9 years to break even. For those retiring in 2020, it will take 20.9 years. Workers entering the labor force today won’t live long enough to get back even half of what they will put into Social Security.

…then yes, it is reasonable to refer to Social Security as a Ponzi Scheme.

-Ed Walker


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ET EXTRA: Is EasyWater (The “No Salt Water Conditioner”) A Scam?

fire Engineering Thinking Extra Is A Short Review Of A Current Hot Topic


Define the problem and set the goals: Hard water. Want to find a water conditioner at a reasonable price. Said conditioner should remove/prevent scale, prevent spotting, and make water feel good to the touch. A no-salt device as claimed by EasyWater would be a plus.

Do the research: Check some sites by knowledgeable chemistry professionals. Gallery of water-related pseudoscience has this to say about EasyWater: “They have toned down their previous silly hype, and now just give the usual dubious stuff about electromagnetic scale control.”

Analyze & test: Check if the EasyWater web site presents independent third-party testing that supports its claims. As of this post it doesn’t. The site is full of anecdotal comments of unknown validity, and what engineers call “hand waving”; technical mumbo jumbo meant to impress those without a science background. Amazingly, the site’s FAQ section clearly states that the product does not achieve the goals of a conventional water conditioner. But hey, it doesn’t use salt.

Conclusion:  Avoid this company until they present some solid third-party test evidence that their product provides benefits associated with “water conditioning,” which would include substantial scale removal/prevention.

Note to EasyWater: If you have any independent verifiable scientific evidence that quantifies the amount of scale removed or prevented by your products as compared to a conventional salt-based water conditioner, please submit. I will be happy to post.

-Ed Walker


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Books, Magazines, and Seminars: Who Do You Trust?

The value of what you learn is dependent on the character and competence of those from whom you learn. If the articles and books you read are written by truly reputable authors, then the odds are good that you will absorb some valuable knowledge. But how does one verify character and competence?


A background check, using a reputable person or organization as your guide, is a good way to identify those who are less competent at what they do. Well-intentioned and honest but unqualified folks may perform poorly, but they do it without guile, creating a paper trail of unflattering reviews that allow us to adjust our expectations. You may even want to hire Joe the painter because of his rock-bottom price, even though you’ve learned from his past customers that when Joe is done you’ll find your windows painted shut.


On the other hand, those with low moral character tend to be less visible, because they are adept at escaping detection. Performing competently is not their real goal, so their offerings may be completely wrong and even dangerous: seminars on why you should invest in their business; books on losing weight without reducing calories or exercising; and articles on how to win the lottery or find the perfect mate.

Smiling Faces Sometimes Tell Lies

Low-character predators convey an engaging personality, adopt honorable professions (sometimes obtained with fraudulent mail-order degrees), and are fluent with phrases that may sound scientific to a non-scientist, but are actually gibberish. They have an excellent understanding of human nature and you want to believe them. You want to make them your best friend, trust them with your life’s savings, even marry them. You’ll find these charming frauds throughout society, and their intent is to make you part with whatever you have that they want. Many of them have a favorite saying:

Trust Me

Therefore, although an article, book, or seminar may have the trappings of authenticity, beware that it could easily be bogus, because fraudsters are master mimics of respectability. Before you order that weight-loss product touted in an article by a celebrity author, or sign up for that “ten simple steps to great wealth” seminar, insist on proof of past performance to confirm that the author or lecturer is truly worthy of your time and money.

Sometimes it only takes a few civil well-placed questions to weed out the lower-level ripoff artists. Here are some examples from personal experience:

1. The “Too Good To Be True” Scam:

While researching a dubious claim for a product, I asked a sales rep, “Can you provide a report from an independent testing company that proves the effectiveness of your all-electronic water purifier?” After some attempts to deflect me to the company’s own test results, it was admitted that the answer was no.

2. The “You Can Trust Me Because I Know Your Neighbor” Scam, Version 1:

I answered a knock on our door to find a scruffy man in workman’s clothes who said, “Hi, I can give you a good price for trimming your trees. I’m going to do the same for your neighbor next door, um, um…” He was obviously stalling, waiting for me to say “Mrs. Gibbons?” so he could then say, “Yeah, Mrs. Gibbons,” but I just waited. He finally stuttered some more, “Um, um…” and then laughed and walked away.

3. The “You Can Trust Me Because I Know Your Neighbor” Scam, Version 2:

The smiling collegiate-looking young man at the door said he was collecting money for a neighborhood student’s field trip to Europe. “How nice,” I said. “Please give me the student’s name and phone number so I can call to make arrangements to give them a donation.” He walked away.

4. The “I’m Well-Dressed And Articulate So You Can Trust Me” Scam:

A professionally-garbed man approached us in the early evening on a street in St. Augustine. With polished grammar, he politely requested a short-term loan to get his car out of a garage. “I’m so stupid;” he said, “I left my wallet at home.” I sympathized and then asked, “What’s the name of the garage?; I’ll call and give them my credit card number.” He tried a few more gambits but I insisted on dealing directly with the garage. He finally smiled and walked away.

For another example of the audaciousness of frauds, reprinted below is a true story from a prior issue of The Design/Analysis Newsletter:


Sightings is a collection of true experiences as reported by credible sources

Charlie the Consultant was advised that he was to start reporting to Pat, the new Director of Manufacturing who had been hired to launch the product Charlie had designed. Charlie attended the initial one-on-one meeting with Pat, and half an hour later left, feeling puzzled — very puzzled. Pat had not asked Charlie any pertinent questions concerning the product, and in fact seemed to be in a hurry to get rid of Charlie.

Charlie returned to the office and dug out a resume of Pat’s that had been circulated earlier. Although Charlie had been asked to review the resume, Pat had been quickly hired before Charlie had the opportunity, so Charlie had just filed it away. But now he gave it a good look, and frowned. The resume was one of the worst he’d ever seen (and he’d seen quite a few), and did not appear at all to reflect the background of someone who claimed to have been head of manufacturing for an electronics firm.

Charlie asked an associate — someone who possessed particularly good investigative skills — to check out Pat’s claims. It soon became apparent that Pat had never been a Director of Manufacturing, nor for that matter director of anything. Pat was a fraud.

Although Charlie had not yet confirmed some of the details, such as the bona fides of Pat’s supposed BSEE degree from the Southwestern University in Arizona, Charlie had more than enough evidence to alert his client, which is what he did. But to Charlie’s surprise, rather than being congratulated for helping avoid a terrible mistake, Charlie was instead chastised. “We’ve checked him out and he’s okay,” said the client, blithely ignoring the results of the investigation. Charlie replied, “Did you even check out his academic background?” ”Of course,” said the client angrily, “He showed us his diploma.”

After a few more terse comments, Charlie decided that, for whatever reason, his client was not capable of looking at the situation rationally. Perhaps it was because the client had earlier released an announcement in the company newsletter informing the shareholders of the great new manufacturing director that had just been hired. In any event, Charlie resigned.

Shortly thereafter, Charlie received confirmation that Southwestern University had been a scam, a diploma mill that federal agents had investigated and shut down back in the eighties. It was basically a post office drop where you could mail in a couple hundred bucks and they would mail you back a degree. Charlie wondered why Pat didn’t spring for fifty dollars more and get a doctorate.

Some months later Charlie heard that the locks on the doors of his ex-client’s facility had been changed, at about the same time that Pat was fired.

Next Post:

Advice From Professionals: Who Do You Trust? (Part 2)

-Ed Walker


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