R. Paul Wilson On: Fake Reviews And Phony Products
It bears repeating that we are all suckers to a great idea, but some ideas are not just too good to be true they’re just plain ridiculous.
And yet, people keep falling for crazy products and ideas.
It’s All A Repeat
Stumbling around the internet, I recently fell into a rabbit hole of devices making ridiculous claims and impossible promises.
One such product was the “TVFix”: A simple, tiny device that when plugged into your TV can activate or unlock hundreds of channels, legally – and for free!
One assumes they’re using the term “legally” quite loosely.
This tiny-sized piece of plastic was allegedly developed after many years of research at the University of Tokyo where “top scientists” (in white lab coats) invented a way to capture low frequency electronic waves and somehow gain access to hundreds of previously locked TV channels.
Tested by “military engineers” it could unlock streaming content other suckers are dumb enough to pay for!
It even claimed to record shows with “DVR functionality.”
If you’re not already reaching for your wallet, what the hell are you waiting for?
As one excellent scam observer/exposer noted, these online ads are filled with buzzwords and phrases common to scam products like “taking the TV world by storm” which is a psychological motivator borrowed from pitch artists, market sellers and street hawkers.
Nothing about this scam is new, except maybe the bullsh*t product itself but even that is probably stolen from other online hustlers.
The age-old snake oil scam would often feature an old or infirm man plucked from the crowd then gifted a snifter of magic brew, which would immediately imbue this “stranger” with energy and be a cure for his obvious ailments.
Subtlety was rarely a factor with the old timer dancing and whooping and claiming he could read the date on a silver dollar from 50 yards.
This now-rejuvenated customer would buy a bottle of whatever the con artist was selling before dashing to the nearest bordello to enjoy his new-found vitality to its fullest.
This obvious display was usually punctuated by a well-worn script between the pitchman and his stooge that never failed to pull a crowd and with enough eyes on the show, never failed to turn a profit.
It might sound hokey, but it worked – and at least it required a little more effort and showmanship that their modern counterparts.
I once watched a fake perfume pitch on London’s Oxford Street where the same four or five people would rush forward at the end of every presentation to buy glossy, plastic wrapped boxes of Kalvin Clein and Bugo Hoss.
No dialogue, no show, just a collection of obviously bored shills in sweatshirts stepping forward at the right moment to provoke real people to hand over their cash.
Modern day pitches are less overt but the tools that they use are just new wine in old bottles.
The TVFix scam employed an online campaign to target people through social media and in order to bolster their wild claims, the perpetrators seeded the internet with articles and “reviews” that would quickly be found by a casual Google search.
Search engine optimization (SEO) can be costly but if your product has a relatively unique name then it’s easy to build websites that flood search engines with tags and references that are bound to come up first.
If the scammers are lucky, legitimate review sites won’t even make the front page of a search and in most cases, people rarely scroll beyond the first few results.
Looking at these poorly written, lie-by-numbers webpages you can find a lot of common phrases collected in a linear fashion that might almost be automatically generated.
In fact, modern software promises to “write content” based on AI engines with enormous search histories.
These faked-up reviews already make for odd reading so God only knows what they might be like when lazy scammers start using artificial intelligence as a substitute for insufficient intelligence.
One easy-to-spot sign of a fake article or review is the author of the article, often a fake name married with a stock photograph, and it can be quite funny to search that photo to find its true source.
I’ve come across a few trustworthy-looking faces that have apparently penned dozens of reviews under multiple pseudonyms.
Of course, none of this is designed to stand up to scrutiny.
All such scams – like rolling pitchmen of the 1900s – are designed to stimulate an impulsive decision to buy.
While the nature of the internet forces modern scammers to add additional layers of fakery for prospective victims to find, even badly written webpages that confirm blatant lies work wonders when trawling for easy money.
All it takes is a basic understanding of how scams work to dig a little deeper.
Did It Work?
The scam worked a lot better than the device itself.
I found several scambaiters who bought one then tested it to find that, shockingly, the little plastic dongle was just a little plastic dongle and when taken apart contained nothing but a couple of wires and connectors that would probably interfere with the quality of your existing television channels.
Yet it’s a compelling example of something that seems feasible enough to warrant an advertising budget, a social media campaign, and a web of lies and made-up reviews.
I wonder how many they sold and what repercussions those sellers might suffer if enough buyers complained or reported the scam to authorities.
Even if there was a price to be paid for this kind of fraud, where are the perpetrators?
Are they in Europe where maybe they might be prosecuted or are they in China where countless thousands of similar scams are poured onto social media every day?
Next time you see something that looks like it might be a scam, do your research but be sure to search known sources of information or genuine review sites where you will doubtless find a lot of genuine, p*ssed off suckers.
Chicken Stone Update
In a previous article on online scams, I confessed to falling for one myself thanks to an extremely well-made promotional video stolen from the people who made the real deal (a cooking gadget called the “Chicken Stone”).
Due to several factors including time and alcohol, I didn’t realize it was a rip-off item until my purchase was directed to a company in China instead of the originator in the United States.
Many months later (after submitting that article) the counterfeit version arrived in a cheap cardboard box filled with newspaper but no printed packaging or instructions of any kind.
The item itself looked exactly like the one I saw on the video: A yellow-glazed ceramic container for stock or liquid that can be inserted into a roasting chicken to increase moisture and flavor.
Did it work?
I have no idea.
The chances of me pushing a counterfeit object into something I’m planning to eat remain less than zero and while it might actually be a perfectly safe, working replica of the real thing, I’d rather keep it as a reminder not to buy anything on Facebook in the wee small hours of the morning.
Lead image: Shutterstock