Sep 262011
 

Deception is an old trick, used by some animals and even plants throughout millions of years of evolution to assure survival of a species. At this stage of our civilization we should be already acting ethically and responsibly, but when money is your religion, greed is your sacrament, so the media is full of deceitful tricks and behavior to lure viewers, readers, visitors and customers.

Take the TV news with their before-the-commercial-break titles: Cancer cure on the way. More about the end of the world… after these messages… The longer the break, the more deceptive the teaser to keep you from changing the channel. My brain is relatively quick (e.g., I wish I could speed up the PBS documentaries which I otherwise love) and since I dislike enormously long commercial breaks, I just google the thing and change the channel anyway. If we all did this, they would make commercial breaks much shorter.

Or take this year’s top political marketing trick that ended up backfiring: Donald Trump took advantage of the deceitful activities from the far right to cash in on the president Obama’s birth certificate issue (or lack thereof). Usually contributing more to democrats, he created a political distraction to boost his popularity and get easy and cheap marketing through his “presidential campaign” stage. That wasn’t very ethical, but he got what he deserved at the big roast at the Correspondents Dinner, after which he coincidentally ended this political career circus.

When In Doubt, Add “Scam” And Google

There is a face I keep seeing year after year in different infomercials, often talking about ‘conspiracy’ and providing sensationalist claims about his products that sound intriguing but hard to believe. Googling his name (initials K. T.) followed by ‘scam’ confirmed my doubts: the person is a convicted felon with multiple criminal and civil lawsuits and even credit card fraud under his belt.

The Internet is ideal for spreading rumors and half-truths. Not that it should be used for that, but it happens here no less than “in the real life” (as far as I’m concerned, this too IS the real life). Whenever you are not really sure whether to trust a site, an idea, an infomercial or one of those chain email messages about a horrible virus that attacks your computer and makes it explode, try doing a quick “scam search”: enter either the web site name, the author, the characteristic words or the same search terms that led you there followed by the word “scam”. For emails and facebook posts you find hard to believe you can also append “hoax” instead of “scam”. This can save you some serious money or nerves.

Here’s a hoax that is currently circulating on Facebook:
“FACEBOOK JUST RELEASED THEIR PRICE GRID FOR MEMBERSHIP. $9.99 PER MONTH FOR GOLD MEMBER SERVICES, $6.99 PER MONTH FOR SILVER MEMBER SERVICES, $3.99 PER MONTH FOR BRONZE MEMBER SERVICE…”
This is NOT true. It’s a hoax.

In addition, whenever you enter some words into a search engine and find a web site that has the domain name (the internet address part before .com, .net, .org .info, .us etc.) too similar to your search term, be cautious before you give them your absolute trust. They may be counting on easy search engine top ranking due to the exact match. Sites like this can be heavily biased either due to an affiliation or paid promotion fees, or may try to double-cross you into buying one of the less fortunate competitors, possibly even being indirectly owned by one of them.

For example, last year I was (re)searching places to host this site and here you will soon see which hosting provider I currently recommend after trying four of them within a year. My searches returned a lot of sites with words related to web hosting review in their domain name and of course, I got suspicious. My hunch was that most of those websites are owned by one of the hosting providers or their affiliates. Naturally, I spent some time looking for scams and here’s a video I found that apparently shows they can’t be trusted:

If you want to find a credible review or recommendation for a product or service, don’t go to a domain name narrowly tailored for that particular web search (unless you are absolutely sure it is a reputable place). Look in well-known websites that provide reviews supported by facts.

Some Less Malicious Attention Grabbers

Let’s look at the relatively recent article I saw quoted on few websites which states that converting currency on Google can lead to malware attack. This is bordering deception by alluding that Google (instead of the internet) is infected with malware. The other problematic assumption of this article is that you will click on a link to a bad site after seeing how much 100 Euros is worth in Google’s home-brewed converter on the very top of the page.

There’s no way for Google to check every link in the world for malware, although it does a good job marking bad sites with the “This site may harm your computer” warning. (My other regular defense is McAfee SiteAdvisor which marks possibly malicious sites returned by the search engine).

The above article looks like an attempt to attract visitors and customers with kind-of sensationalist news coined by ambiguous and (I have to admit) clever wording so they sell more of their own malware protection tools.

Don’t trust everything you read on the internet (or in the newspapers or on TV). But again, be reasonable and beware of the other extreme: doing a search followed by “scam” sometimes can give you a “scam scam” site sponsored or brought up by a competitor purposely trying to use the FUD tactic to scare you away from a better product. Now you’ll say I’m pulling your leg. Who can we trust? Nobody?

Your own time and attention. That’s what it takes to distinguish good from rotten apples, no matter whether your information comes from the internet, TV, radio, life itself, a word of mouth, or one of those hoax emails (I usually research these at snopes.com). Doing searches on the internet is getting harder because of all the overwhelming and growing ‘noise’. It’s getting harder to distinguish what’s relevant and trustworthy and what’s not. I use common sense and don’t trust anybody too much. Quick searches may be very deceiving, because sponsored links can sometimes have a sneaky look of a regular search engine result. Also, you can’t trust video testimonies any more either because there are actors willing to do it for $5 on fiverr. You have to do your homework and not only search but research. I provided some tips here that may make it quicker. Those who refuse to spend their time on this may end up spending far more time trying to recover money lost by “buying the Brooklyn Bridge”.

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