Posts Tagged “scam”

you probably don't wanna knowNote: There’s some recent news in this case; see the update below.

I’ve long complained that Johnny Law tends to turn a blind eye to the machinations and lies of “psychics.” Criminal prosecutions are extremely rare. At worst, when caught, they pay off their victims (sometimes only partly) then lay low for a short time and move on to new targets. They almost never see the inside of a prison. No wonder it’s such a lucrative business!

But the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports on the unusual example of one such trial, which got underway today (WebCite cached article):

When Fort Lauderdale fortune teller Rose Marks goes on trial Monday, accused of masterminding a $25 million fraud, the case will offer a rare peek inside the secretive world of those who say they have psychic powers.

The amount of money involved in what prosecutors say was a 20-year scam and the celebrity status of the main witness — best-selling romance novelist Jude Deveraux, who they say lost $17 million — have brought notoriety to the case.

Though it’s not the first time a “psychic” has been criminally charged with fleecing customers, trials in such cases are uncommon, records show. Most fortune tellers accused of fraud have reached plea agreements with prosecutors or agreed to pay back what their clients said they owed.

Among the schemes employed by Marks and her family (the rest of them have already pled guilty) is their own variation on the old “gypsy curse” scam:

Marks and her family convinced some of the walk-in clients that their problems were caused by curses that had dogged their families for generations and that the family could perform rituals and other services to remove those curses, prosecutors said.

While they acknowledge that fortune telling is not against the law, “any more than performing magic or card tricks is not unlawful, or telling lies is not, per se, unlawful,” prosecutors say that Marks and her family committed fraud by making false promises and not returning money they said they would give back.

Marks herself protests her innocence and claims to be the victim:

In an exclusive interview about the case, Marks told the Sun Sentinel in December that she did nothing wrong.

“I gave my life to these people. We’re talking about clients of 20 years, 30 years, 40 years. We’re not talking about someone I just met and took all their money and ran off,” Marks said.…

Marks told the Sun Sentinel that she earned the money Deveraux paid her during their 17-year friendship. She said she was a personal assistant to Deveraux and negotiated a fee of about $1 million a year when she agreed to give up her profitable business to work almost exclusively for the wealthy author, whose work includes more than 35 books on the New York Times bestsellers list.

Marks also said that she helped Deveraux write some of her novels.

“I was her inspiration and gave her insight on Romani mysticism and beliefs in the after life and religion and the psychic world and the spiritual world and romany theology and … it took a lot of time and effort,” Marks told the newspaper.

Oh, and, of course, this prosecution was triggered by anti-Romani prejudice:

Marks’ defense says she is the victim of bias against the Roma, also known as Gypsies, and that investigators drummed up the charges against her after some of her long-term clients experienced “buyer’s remorse.”

While there’s no doubt that there’s anti-Romani prejudice in the world, that doesn’t mean there can’t still be some crooked Romani out there who genuinely deserve to be prosecuted.

At any rate, it’s heartening to see the criminal justice system actually take on these metaphysical swindlers. What a lot of these psychics do is fraud — plain and simple — and it ought to be prosecuted a lot more often.

Update: Putative “psychic” Rose Marks was given a 10-year federal sentence for her swindle (cached) after being convicted in September 2013.

Photo credit: Flood, via Flickr.

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Roman Clock / Mikael Ganehag Brorsson, via Open Clip Art LibraryTonight at 2 am, most Americans will go through the inane, ridiculous exercise of advancing their clocks one hour. I’ve blogged several times about the twice-annual scam that is Daylight Saving Time. Once again, I’m taking this opportunity to point out that it’s fraudulent, in every possible way.

As I’ve said previously, everything we’ve been told about DST is a lie. It wasn’t invented by Benjamin Franklin (except as a joke); it had nothing to do with farmers, and does nothing for them; and it doesn’t save energy.

Back when I first blogged about the fraudulent nature of DST, mine was pretty much a “lone voice in the wilderness” calling for it to be ended. But over the last couple years I’ve noticed more folks realizing it’s a scam. Today, Gothamist took note of how DST is predicated on lies and foisted on Americans for no good reason.

I’ve had one correspondent call me “whiny” and told me to get over it; we’ve always done DST, so just deal with it. Unfortunately, we haven’t “always done DST,” it wasn’t consistently implemented until Congress passed the Uniform Time Act of 1966. (Which itself was a lie, since this Act did not, in fact, make time “uniform” through the country … some parts of the country were left out of it.) But even if we had “always” had DST, that’s not a valid reason to keep doing it. Instead, it’s an appeal to tradition, and is fallacious.

It’s time for everyone just to admit, we need to end the twice-annual fraud which is daylight saving time.

Photo credit: Mikael Ganehag Brorsson, via Open Clip Art Library.

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Placebo BalanceI’ve blogged before about the worthless Power Balance bracelets, which supposedly enhance people’s athletic performance. It turns out — by their manufacturer’s own admission! — that they do nothing at all. Despite this concession, and the fact that the bracelets haven’t been shown to do anything but drain the checking accounts of idiots foolish enough to fall for their manufacturer’s laughable pseudoscience (WebCite cached article), Power Balance bracelets continue to sell. Celebrities of all types continue to be seen wearing them. And the NBA, among other entities, has decided to go along for the ride and cash in on the public’s gullibility, by shilling these useless pieces of plastic. This hasn’t stopped Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, from speaking out against the deal, as ESPN reports, and calling it what it is — a scam (cached):

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban believes that one of the NBA’s marketing deals is “a scam,” and he said Monday that he banned the product from the team’s locker room.

Cuban made his opinion clear in a video he posted to YouTube last week in which he criticized Power Balance bracelets before throwing the display case that was in the Mavericks’ locker room in the garbage.

“See this stuff?” Cuban said on the video, grabbing the display. “It was a scam when they were on ‘Shark Tank.’ It’s still a scam. I don’t care if the NBA was dumb enough to sign an agreement; this is going where it belongs.”

At that point, Cuban put the display case in a trash can.

His video on the subject is right here:

It’s nice to see at least one NBA team owner taking on his own league, against this scam. Would that more owners did so, and more celebrities spoke out against Power Balance and the fraud it’s perpetrating on the public, rather than embracing and fostering it.

Photo credit: Lonjho, via Flickr.

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TSA at Gate B9I’ve blogged a couple of times about the joke that is the TSA … you know, the people who make you take off your shoes and your belts, throw away your coffee, scan your innards — and in some cases pat you down thoroughly — before you go into the gate area of an airport. Interestingly, someone who once ran the TSA, from 2005 to 2009, agrees with this assessment. Kip Hawley wrote a book — and penned a piece for the Wall Street Journal — in which he makes this concession (WebCite cached article):

Airport security in America is broken. I should know. For 3½ years — from my confirmation in July 2005 to President Barack Obama’s inauguration in January 2009 — I served as the head of the Transportation Security Administration. …

More than a decade after 9/11, it is a national embarrassment that our airport security system remains so hopelessly bureaucratic and disconnected from the people whom it is meant to protect. Preventing terrorist attacks on air travel demands flexibility and the constant reassessment of threats. It also demands strong public support, which the current system has plainly failed to achieve.

The crux of the problem, as I learned in my years at the helm, is our wrongheaded approach to risk. In attempting to eliminate all risk from flying, we have made air travel an unending nightmare for U.S. passengers and visitors from overseas, while at the same time creating a security system that is brittle where it needs to be supple.

I applaud Hawley for finally admitting that the TSA does not actually serve its stated purpose and needs to change its ways. But even having given him that credit, I must point out that the man is a brazen hypocrite. Back in 2008, he was interviewed by Leslie Stahl in the course of a 60 Minutes piece on the broken nature of TSA security. In that interview, Hawley insisted to Ms Stahl that everything TSA was doing, was required in order to thwart al-Qaeda … and to skip any of it would be to let the terrorists through and risk another 9/11/2001. He was adamant that nothing TSA was doing amounted to “security theater.” You can read the article on the CBS News Web site (cached)*, or watch the 60 Minutes segment right here:

I invite Mr Hawley to supplement his welcome comments on the TSA’s ineffectiveness, with an apology for having himself been part of the fraud behind it. (I don’t use that word lightly … the TSA is a fraud, in every sense of that word, except for the fact that the people who created and run it will never be prosecuted for having rammed their scam down the throats of American travelers.) Few people have the courage to make such an apology, so I don’t expect Hawley will ever offer it. This, I fear, is the closest he will ever come to doing so.

Photo credit: steuben, via Flickr.

Hat tip: CT Watchdog.

* The CBS article is broken into 4 pages; here are links and cached versions of each: Page 1 (cached), page 2 (cached), page 3 (cached) & page 4 (cached).

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Clock, Midtown, New York City (Ian Britton)For some reason, two of the more popular pages on this blog are my diatribes against the “daylight saving time” scam. I guess people are beginning to catch onto the fact that they’ve been lied to about it, and that it’s not merely an unnecessary annoyance, it may actually create a health risk to some folks (WebCite cached article). In fact, as tonight’s DST change approached, I heard and saw quite a bit in the mass media about this problem; e.g. as reported here (cached) and here (cached).

In fact, the Los Angeles Times openly questions the wisdom of daylight saving time (cached):

Daylight saving time begins this weekend. From coast to coast, most Americans will dutifully “spring forward” by one hour early Sunday morning. We’re told this helps save energy and allows us to enjoy more sunshine during the summer months.

But a number of critics say this is all a big fat waste of time. Daylight saving time does nothing but create chaos and confusion, they say, and might actually waste more energy than it tries to save. It should be abandoned immediately, they contend.

It looks as though my complaint about daylight saving time being a scam — and yes, folks, it most assuredly is a scam — has finally been taken up by more people, and the problems it creates are getting increased attention. I welcome the company of all these new DST skeptics. It’s time we jettisoned DST … the sooner, the better.

Photo credit: Ian Britton, via FreeFoto.

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Trapped. 298/365The very same day I post about the scam which is daylight saving time, comes an event in my home state of Connecticut, which shines a massive floodlight on yet another scam: The supposed “security” meant to protect us from terrorist attacks. The venerable Hartford Courant provides this incredibly brief story on the incident (WebCite cached article):

State police say a harmless snowglobe in a carryon bag caused a partial evacuation at Bradley International Airport.

State police Lt. J. Paul Vance says a Transportation Security Administration worker spotted something that looked suspicious while screening bags and alerted state police shortly before 11 a.m. Sunday.

Vance says Terminal A was evacuated as a precaution but was reopened about 45 minutes later, after authorities determined the snowglobe did not contain explosives and was not a danger.

Full disclosure: I live near Bradley and have been there many times. What you may not know about it is that an evacuation of Terminal A is NOT a “partial” evacuation. It is a “full” evacuation. That’s because, as of this summer, ALL passenger flights go in and out of BDL though Terminal A. That’s right, Terminal A is pretty much the entire airport! The “old airport,” Terminal B, has been closed for months … and for a couple of years prior to that, only one airline used it, that being American Airlines.

I almost cannot believe the Courant purposely downplayed this event by using this wording — but they did. It’s inexcusable, but not surprising.

The cold hard fact is that airport security is nothing more than “security theater,” intended to make travelers feel as though they’re safe, when they’re not.

Second point of full disclosure: I happened to be traveling during the holidays in 2009, when a young man from Africa shoved explosives in his shorts and tried to set them off on a flight into Detroit (cached article). My return trip included extra security measures ostensibly designed to deal with that (cached). However, I can attest that, had I also packed explosives in my shorts, not one of the “extra” measures they implemented, would have even come close to finding it. All TSA did was add time and complexity to everyone’s travel, without adding so much as a micron of actual, extra “security.”

As CNN’s article on that event shows, the government actually had had all the information it needed to have prevented that young man from getting on the airplane … but they chose to do nothing about it.

And that, Gentle Reader, is what makes all the “security theater” a meaningless exercise. Real “security” means not letting the terrorists anywhere near an airport in the first place. The measures taken to — supposedly — detect weapons and explosives in the airports, are useless, if a terrorist is sufficiently driven to slip it through.

Although “security theater” is most noticed in airports and in aviation, it does crop up in other places too, such as in large-city mass transit systems. The same principle applies to all settings, though: True security lies in keeping terrorists out of public venues entirely, not in dealing with them once they’ve already arrived.

At any rate, authorities tend to go overboard when faced with “suspicious” packages and devices. They say it’s due to being “cautious,” because — it is said — IF the “suspicious” item turns out to truly have been dangerous, but no action had been taken, and someone was hurt or killed, there’d be hell to pay. While this is true, it’s also a fallacious false dilemma. There IS a large middle ground of possible choices between these two extremes; various shades of action that span the continuum between doing nothing and shutting down an entire airport. For example, there’s cordoning off the immediate vicinity of the device, calling in the bomb squad, and carting it away safely, but with everyone kept at a safe distance, with most people able to continue with their business. (Bradley’s Terminal A is a very large building, so there’s plenty of room to work with, if officials wanted.)

The reason that this sort of discreet measure is never taken, is because officials don’t want to use discreet measures: They want everything they do to be seen, to be seen BIG, and to be as noticeable as possible, so that everyone knows they’re doing their jobs. Quietly controlling the situation and removing the device with a minimum of trouble, is the opposite of that, and therefore is unacceptable.

The problem with idiotic hypersecurity debacles such as the snowglobe that closed Bradley International is not merely that they’re laughable or inconveniences for travelers. There are very real costs involved in closing airport terminals. Planes, for example, cannot fly in or out of them; this means airlines must incur the costs of shuffling airplanes and travelers around. Concessionaires cannot sell to empty terminals; this means a loss of business for them. I could go on, but won’t bother … you get the picture.

The “security theater” which has become a national obsession since September 11, 2001 is indeed a scam and a joke … but you need not just take my word for it. Folks much more expert on the matter than I, have weighed in, and they agree. See e.g. this 60 Minutes report on it (cached), as well as this report by The Atlantic (cached).

It’s a sad day when a mere snowglobe … someone’s harmless souvenir … can cripple an entire international airport. Unfortunately this kind of pathetic, laughable sham happens all the time in the US. But it shouldn’t. It’s a scam Americans should no longer tolerate.

Photo credit: Tenineight.

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ClockTonight, most Americans will change the the time on their clocks, moving them ahead one hour, as of 2 a.m. tomorrow (Sunday March 14, 2010). Daylight saving time is, perhaps, one of the cleverest scams ever foisted on the modern world.

Yes, that’s what I called DST: a scam. A lie. A fraud. In all of the senses of those words.

The myths about DST are legion; I will cover just a few of them here.

First, it’s often said that DST was first imposed in order to “help” farmers. This is not true. Rather, it was first imposed systematically in Europe — and later in the US — during World War I, in order to aid industry by — hopefully — reducing coal consumption, and discourage nighttime air raids. DST was repealed after the war was over. It was reimposed, as a year-round measure, in the US during World War II (and was referred to as “War Time” for that reason), and for reasons similar to why it was imposed in WWI. After World War II, DST was rolled back, then applied haphazardly, and was not standardized until Congress passed the Uniform Time Act of 1966. (Even then, it was not truly “standardized,” since some jurisdictions were allowed not to observe it, most famously a lot of counties in Indiana, as well as the entire states of Arizona and Hawai’i.) At no time during any of this was DST requested by farmers, nor does it help them in any way; it has nothing whatever to do with agriculture. Rather, it was first imposed as a wartime-industrial measure.

Second, it’s frequently claimed that DST saves energy. Most recently this was the widely-trumpeted rationale for shifting the dates of DST (beginning in 2007) when Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The truth of the matter, however, is that DST does not in any way help save energy; in fact, it may cause more energy to be consumed than without it, as UCSB researchers determined (WebCite cached article) by looking at changes in energy consumption in Indiana after that state moved, in 2005, to observe DST statewide. Thus, the savings of fuel, which had primarily inspired enacting DST during the two world wars, probably had never been achieved! In addition to possibly encouraging added energy consumption, DST also causes expenditure of other resources, especially labor (for instance, when people — in both homes and businesses — must run around either changing all their clocks, computers, and other devices … or checking on them to be sure they correctly changed themselves).

Third, people often attribute the imposition of DST to Benjamin Franklin, who famously wrote on the subject. His piece, however, was not intended to be read literally. He was, instead, poking fun at what he considered to be Parisians’ sluggish and slovenly ways, as can be read in this suggestion:

Every morning, as soon as the sun rises, let all the bells in every church be set ringing; and if that is not sufficient?, let cannon be fired in every street, to wake the sluggards effectually, and make them open their eyes to see their true interest.

DST was, instead, first truly proposed by an entomologist from New Zealand named J.V. Hudson, who got the idea from his observations of insects.

Fourth, DST starting this weekend means that school children who, last week, were able to go to school in the morning with at least some sunlight, will now be heading to school in the dark once again, as they had in the depths of winter. There is no way that this can be said to benefit them.

Clearly the time has come for everyone to admit the simple truth about daylight saving time, which is that it is a vast inconvenience which does nothing helpful for anyone, does not do what most people claim it does (i.e. to save energy), and only causes trouble. Let’s end the charade. OK?

Photo credit: bowbrick.

P.S. Mark over at the Skeptics & Heretics Forum points out that DST is also associated with an increased incidence of heart attacks (WebCite cached article). Yet another very good reason to scratch it.

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