This episode of The Reality Check is the best piece of content on the internet. Pat leads things off by going in depth into his investigation of a vanity award scam. Next Darren discusses if people in Afghanistan know about the events of 9/11. Finally Elan answers whether it’s true that a 17 year old woman named Jackie Mitchell struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig consecutively.
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Better Business Bureau: Seven Small Business Scams
US-CA.org Wayback Machine: November 2009
Genealogy Site Ripped Off by US-CA.org
Pelland Advertising Facebook Page
USTCI.org Wayback Machine: June 2014
SBIEC.org Wayback Machine June 2013
Summary of SugarCRM’s White Paper
Las Vegas Lawsuit Against US-CA
Newer Version of Cheque Image on USTCRI.org
Old Version USTCI Cheque Image on USTCRI.org
Check The Image Name: USIEC hosted on USTCRI.org
Check The Image Name: SBIEC hosted on USTCRI.org
Afghan 9/11 Awareness
Smithsonianmag – The Woman Who (Maybe) Struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig
Exploratorium – Jackie Mitchell
Another great piece of investigation by Pat, but I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this one. I was reminded of a segment in an earlier episode where Adam looked into the practice of selling star names or real estate on the moon. I could see that some people would be happy to buy one of these awards in the hope that it would give them some added legitimacy, sort of like the way some lawyers buy those fake rows of leather bound books to give their office some added gravitas. If they understand they are just paying for a trophy and certificate, it doesn’t seem that bad. It’s not like they are buying some sort of fake documentation saying they have a fake ISO certification. I guess another analogy might be buying a fake degree or credential from an online diploma mill. If you just want to hang a bunch of certificates on the wall just to impress people, that seems a little sleazy and pathetic, but ultimately nobody is hurt. If you buy a fake DDS degree and start your own dental practice with no real qualifications, now that’s a problem.
I also thought it was funny that you mentioned the BBB issuing warnings about these types of scams since the BBB itself has been accused of its own unethical practices about boosting ratings and removing bad reviews in exchange for money. 🙂
“…but I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this one.” Me either, Nick. Is it a victimless crime? Kind of, but it is a scam nonetheless. If people go into purchasing the awards knowing that they are worthless: it’s a case of no harm, no foul. BUT, I think a lot of businesses go into it thinking the awarding company is legit. Despite the fact that we probably end up preaching to the choir most of the time, my wish for TRC is to be a place people stumble on when trying to untangle “real” from “looks/sounds real”. The BBB issue was news to me. Someone should do a podcast segment on it!
Thanks for the comment.
Maybe these awards actually do have value, they could be used by skeptical consumers as a good proxy for the quality of the people running the business. If your financial adviser paid for one of these scam awards, move your money somewhere else as fast as possible! 🙂
As for the BBB, yeah, it would be a great segment topic. I always assumed it was a consumer advocacy organization, but it doesn’t work like I thought it did. Here are a couple of links if you or anyone else is interested:
From this article: “The expulsion stems back to a pay-to-play scandal unearthed in 2010 by the ABC News show 20/20. The investigation showed extortion-type practices applied to local businesses: Those that paid annual dues to the BBB were handed accreditation and A ratings, while those that didn’t play along were given subpar grades, even if they hadn’t received complaints. Most disturbingly, investigators were able to get accreditation and an A- grade for a fake, totally nonexistent business after paying a $425 fee to the local BBB. (The name of the dummy business was Hamas—yep, the same as the Middle Eastern terrorist organization.)”
And a story from closer to home: http://www.cbc.ca/news/better-business-bureau-accused-of-biased-ratings-1.886285
Pat’s segment on the fake awards reminds me of a scam I almost fell for when I was a teenager. It was a poetry contest. You wrote a poem and a panel of judges would vote on them and the very best were to be published in a book, or at least so we were told. I submitted a poem and to my surprise, my poem was selected. At first I was excited that some judges somewhere read my poem and voted it worthy of inclusion in a book. I went to the website to see a graphical representation of what my poem will look like once its published. I was offered discount rates to buy copies of this book, and you even had a chance to browse the book to see what other poems that will be included. That is when my heart sank. The very next poem to mine on the next virtual page was an all caps angry rant about how this website is a scam and will rip you off. Needless to say, I don’t think a panel of judges thought that was some kinda of post modern poem, it just meant it was all a fake, and all the poems would be published in the hopes they will buy the book. Again, you could say it’s a victimless crime, after all I submitted my poem to them, which is more then you can say about these fake awards, but the idea of false praise does seem similar.
About Jackie Mitchell. I think you should listen to You Are Not So Smart podcast, episode 30. They are discussing similar problem. Their guess is that baseball hitters cannot see the ball. Probably they doing some intuitive guess work looking at posture and movement of thrower. The young girl doesn’t throw like a pro therefore she gives no clue how the ball will be thrown.
Anyway. Great podcast. Cool episode. Keep up with great work!!
Now I am going to do my breakfast, after having my breakfast coming again to read further news.