Thursday, February 22, 2024

How FEAR leads to FRAUD

When you are afraid all the time, you end up getting ripped-off.

I talk a lot about emotional things in this blog, which is supposed to be about finances, sort of.  But mental state is very important if you want to get ahead in life.  If you resign yourself to the idea you will "never get ahead in life, anyway" and spend all your money on consumer trash instead, it becomes a self-fulfilling promise.  If you think it is "clever" to post things on Twitter that you "made coffee at home for a year now, and I'm still not a millionaire!" you never will become one.  Take this from someone whose net worth was negative until age 30 or so - but surpassed the seven-figure mark a decade later.

Emotional mindset matters - a lot.  In fact, it is everything. People want "secret tips 'n tricks" to getting rich quickly - and there are none.  Those who sell them to you (and they sell them) are again, relying on your emotions to cheat you.

And among emotions that work against you, the number one is fear.  Fear sells useless extended warranties or loan insurance or "credit protector."  People are so afraid of losing what little they have that they insure trivial things, which collectively, keep them down.  Fear also leads to fraud as well.

Social Engineering relies a lot on fear.  A criminal sends an e-mail to a company employee, telling them that they are the CEO at an important business meeting and need money wired right away to an offshore account to close a deal.  The lowly employee wants to curry favor with the boss and is afraid of being fired, so they ignore the red flags (strange lookalike e-mail address, being implored to keep the transaction secret, etc.) and go ahead and wire a million bucks to an offshore bank account.

Fear drives these fake IRS or "Grandson in jail" scams.  The IRS is going to throw you in jail! (without a trial or without even sending you a letter or auditing your taxes!) - unless you send them five $200 Apple gift cards, because you know, that's how the Federal government is funded, by Apple gift cards!

The "Grandson in jail" scam is the same deal - "Help me, Grandma!  I am in Mexican jail in Cancun on a drug charge!  I need $20,000 but don't tell anyone or I'll lose my scholarship/job!" And fear motivates people to act - and ignore red flags at the same time.

Recently, a lady who writes for "The Cut" which I guess is a column from New York magazine, scammed herself out of fifty grand when some con artist convinced her she was in dire trouble and she needed to take fifty grand out of her savings account and put it in a taped-up cardboard box and hand it to a stranger on the street.  It sounds ridiculous because it is, but she let fear blind her to the obvious.

By the way, this article is only weeks old, but has already spawned its share of online memes.  The Internet works fast!

What is sad is that she writes a financial advice column, but her experience should be a clear disqualification from handing out any further advice.  You can read the article - go ahead, the link is above - I didn't bother much.  And the reason why is she is selling fear as well - a common fear being sold in the media these days.  (That, and like New York Times articles, meander all over the place before getting to the point - they think this kind of writing is clever, apparently).

"Think it can't happen to you?" they say, "Well, it happened to me, it can happen to anyone! So watch out, buster, you're one step away from losing your life's savings!"

Well, maybe not. First of all, since I don't live in New York City, fifty-thousand-dollars is more than mere lunch money to me.  I certainly don't keep that in my savings account.  If someone threatened me, it would take a week, at least, to raise that kind of cash - I would have to sell off some investments and then transfer the money to my investment account and then transfer it to my bank account and then drive into town (calling ahead, as the local bank doesn't consider fifty grand to be lunch money, either) to get the money.  And the local banker who knows me would ask pointed questions as to why I was taking out so much money in cash - or at least the few times I have taken out more than a few grand, they seem curious as to why.

Also, since I used to work for the government and have or had friends who worked for the "three-letter-agencies" as well as the IRS (which is also three letters!) I know that the feds don't rely on mysterious phone calls to get things accomplished.  You can accuse the government of a lot of things, but ineptness is probably the only thing that could stick.  On a good day, the Federal government would have trouble conspiring to make a pot of coffee, much less engage in some weird scheme.

But most people don't know that.  They think the computers at the CIA are like what they say on Mission Impossible where the reality is much less dramatic.  And no, no one in the government would ever ask you for cash in a taped-up box. And why would a guy from the CIA be calling you from the FTC main number?  Even someone from the FTC would be calling from their own number, not the main number.

Oh, and right, I testified for the FTC - they are involved in consumer fraud, not drug deals gone bad South of the border.  But people are ignorant and all they know is stuff they watch on television. And what is on television is mostly aimed at women - crime shows, where women are usually the "Special Victims."

Ugh.  No wonder she fell for it - our entire society is priming women to be passive victims in life.  If you are lucky, you can be the next victim-of-the-week!

So yea, it could happen to you, provided you live in fear that your mechanic is trying to "rip you off" and the Wal-mart slasher is hiding under your minivan, ready to spray you with a "free perfume sample" that will knock you out - only to wake up days later in a bathtub full of ice with a kidney missing.  That could happen!  I saw it on Facebook!

The media loves this shit.  The other "fear" thing they sell - besides the idea that any second now, your identity will be stolen - is that you are mere minutes away from being homeless - and that homelessness is an epidemic affecting millions of people!

The reality is, it is a problem affecting hundreds of thousands of people - less than 1% of the population of the United States.  And to get there, you have to be mentally ill, a drug addict, an alcoholic, or some combination of the three.  People who don't fall into those categories don't stay homeless for long, because rather than hang out on a street corner with a tattered sign saying "just evicted! five children!" they are working with various government agencies and private ones to find shelter, a job, clothing, food, and so on and so forth.  The guy you see living on the streets is there because he is a drug addict or violent and they don't allow that in the shelters.  Getting to rock-bottom takes some work, and while many people live "paycheck to paycheck" they often Tweet this on their new iPhone, which they spend 10 hours a day on. There is a connection.

But fear sells - magazine articles in New York magazine, for example.  You'll never go broke catering to fear.  Watch television "news" sometime (go ahead, I stopped long ago) and you'll see nothing but fear being sold.  We're all going to be nuked! Or raped!  Or robbed! Or whatever.  You never see many things on the news that aren't based on fear, other than the token human interest story, which usually makes us plebes out to be rubes.  She's a Swiftie that teaches adorable squirrels how to water-ski! Google it sometime - it is depressing.

In that regard, Trump has been a godsend for the media.  One media mo-ghoul recently admitted that Trump was good for business as he generates ratings. "50% of Howard Stern listeners love him and listen for an average of two hours. Most common reason given: they want to see what outrageous thing he will say next! 50% of Howard Stern listeners hate him and listen for an average of three hours. Most common reason given: they want to see what outrageous thing he will say next!"  Trump learned a lot from  Howard Stern.  Thanks, Howard!

I know my own blog readership skyrocketed during the 2016 election whenever I wrote about Trump or Hillary.  They want us not to just disagree with the opinions of these characters, but actually hate or fear them.  Because fear (and hate, which is related) are powerful emotions, and if you can grab someone by their fear, well, you have then by the balls (or something else that Trump says he grabs all the time but likely never has).

Of course, while we are allowing ourselves to get all riled up over nothing - such as the latest Hunter Biden allegations (which have been admitted to be fabrications by Russian agents) - we end up acting against our own self-interest.  The media wants to paint Republicans as a bunch of right-wing religious nuts who want to burn books and kill gay people.  And yea, some of those exist - goaded on by Putin's Internet Research Agency.  The same media paints all Democrats as sex-changing weirdos who want to indoctrinate your children into Communism.  And yea, maybe a few of those nutjobs exist as well, but they don't represent mainstream Democrats anymore than Westboro Baptist Church represents mainstream Christianity.

In sort, we are being scammed and falling for it, much like this lady in New York magazine or whatever.  If we believe our neighbors are the enemy and the only solution to our imagined "problems" is violence or covering our pickup truck with stickers, then yea, we have been conned, big-time, out of all of our money.  And they used fear to sell it, too.

So, the idea that "It could happen to anyone" is indeed true, and this lady being scammed out of fifty grand isn't some outlier but what is happening today, across America, to nearly everyone.

...or so it seems.