D. J. Grothe pushes back on the NYT for romanticizing Uri Geller and calling him a “victor”

July 11, 2023 • 1:00 pm

In the Nooz two days ago both Greg Mayer and I weighed in on a very weird article in the New York Times declaring that swindler Uri Geller (you’ll know him as the “spoon bender”) had come out victorious over his critic James Randi, who exposed Geller’s “psychic” manipulations as pure hokum. Nevertheless, the NYT extolled Geller. Here’s what both of us said:

*From Greg:

The New York Times‘ fondness for woo continues to grow: a big homepage article today declares that Uri Geller has “emerged the victor“. The evidence for this: Geller is rich and has opened a museum about himself; an Australian has written a coffee table book about him; and he has outlived his critic James Randi (who was 18 years older than Geller, and died in 2020 at the age of 92). And besides, what harm can there be in cultivating the habits of mind that allow people to believe in telekinesis? The Times used to be a little less credulous about such things, and the harm they can cause.
The article is in the “Business” section, so I guess how much money you have is the right way to judge who ‘wins’. But there’s nary a mention of the size of Randi’s estate– how can we be sure who really won?
From the NYT:

It’s a fortune he might have never earned, he said, without a group of highly agitated critics. Mr. Geller was long shadowed by a handful of professional magicians appalled that someone was fobbing off what they said were expertly finessed magic tricks as acts of telekinesis. Like well-matched heavyweights, they pummeled one another in the ’70s and ’80s in televised contests that elevated them all.

Mr. Geller ultimately emerged the victor in this war, and proof of his triumph is now on display in the museum: a coffee-table book titled “Bend It Like Geller,” which was written by the Australian magician Ben Harris and published in May.

My take:  The victor? The VICTOR?  The NYT then admits that Geller wasn’t really banding spoons or was psychic; it was all trickery:

And the point is that Mr. Geller is an entertainer, one who’d figured out that challenging our relationship to the truth, and daring us to doubt our eyes, can inspire a kind of wonder, if performed convincingly enough. Mr. Geller’s bent spoons are, in a sense, the analog precursors of digital deep fakes — images, videos and sounds, reconfigured through software, so that anyone can be made to say or do anything.

That’s bad writing, and is in fact not true, since Geller never admitted he was doing trickery (see below).

And get a load of this from the NYT:

If Mr. Geller can’t actually bend metal with his brain — and civility and fairness demands this “if” — he is the author of a benign charade, which is a pretty good definition of a magic trick. Small wonder that the anti-Geller brigade has laid down its arms and led a rapprochement with the working professionals of magic. He is a reminder that people thrill at the sense that they are either watching a miracle or getting bamboozled. And now that fakery is routinely weaponized online, Mr. Geller’s claims to superpowers seem almost innocent.

My take: No,  civility and fairness don’t demand the “if”—the possibility that he really was bending spoons with his brain. His followers now more or less admit it, and magicians like Randi could do it regularly.  By saying that Geller “won”, and putting in that “if”, the NYT is once again pandering to woo. And if it wasn’t woo, but just magic, then Geller lost and Randi won. Oh, and the NYT also lost.

Now D. J. Grothe, whom you may remember as a voice in the “new atheist movement” as well as a magician and a good friend of James Randi, takes out after the NYT for its extolling of Randi. Click below to read Grothe’s Substack post:

First, the take of reader Stephen, who brought this link to my attention

Mr. Grothe is criticizing The New York Times for the way they’re telling the story of a swindler, quote: Geller’s history of fraud is surreally romanticized in the New York Times profile — he’s audaciously portrayed as a mere magician somehow performing his deceptions in the public interest! and the NYT article treats James Randi as “little more than a footnote”, dismissing him as just spewing “vitriol” against a poor Uri Geller, who is portrayed as just an “almost innocent” fellow entertainer, a mean-spirited and joyless Randi tilting at the inocuous windmill of Uri Geller.
I’m surprised that a serious newspaper publishes something about a crook, but trying to convince us is not.

Indeed, Grothe admits that Geller has bamboozled people because he has an amiable and endearing personality, but he still bamboozled them:

He built his valuable brand on this falsehood that he was real, and in the process, offended many in the magic community, skeptics, and anyone else who values the truth and cares when the cognitively vulnerable are being defrauded by charlatans. This offense his critics felt — a kind of moral outrage — has led them to debunking Geller countless times, and yet he’s always remained undeterred. And his unscrupulous deceptions weren’t confined to the stage; I think it was and continues to be his very identity, a dangerously misleading persona ethically identical to conscienceless faith healers and psychic charlatans who knowingly dupe the gullible for personal gain.

I’ve only met Uri Geller twice, and I can confirm others’ accounts: he is a beautiful huckster. When I first met him, he made me feel like the center of the universe — he was so warm and attentive, even affectionate, and he honestly seemed like a genuinely nice guy.  I found him to be extremely likable. Even though I knew his history of destructive fraud and deceit. It should be no wonder that someone with his history could be so beguiling.

Two things in this piece surprised me. First, Geller has never admitted that his psychic ‘tricks’ were a form of magic (i.e.,deception): (Bolding is mine.)

That the magic community, with some notable if rare exceptions, has recently turned a blind eye to Geller’s history is not at all due to the fact that Geller has finally confessed to being a fraud, and to bilking his victims out of literal fortunes over the years, because Geller has never confessed to this, nor has he ever tried to make good, nor tried to make his victims whole. Instead, I think magicians have welcomed Geller into their community because magicians as a group are charmed by his personality and especially by his celebrity — magicians are nothing if not starfuckers, and ethics aside, Geller is a bona fide very charming celebrity.

Second, I didn’t know that Geller loaned his name to various scams that did hurt people, including medical misinformation:

But Geller wasn’t — and isn’t — any sort of noble Carl Sagan type. He was a con man who hurt people. And his scams were not just confined to lucrative pseudoscientific oil prospecting cons, as the Times article suggests. In the 90s, Geller’s magazines in England were promoting things like dangerous spiritualistic healing of very physical medical ailments. Found on the magazine racks throughout the country (I bought one in person on my first trip to London in 1996), issues were packaged with “Uri Geller Empowered Quartz Crystals,” with step-by-step instructions for supposedly curing very real diseases. He didn’t perform benign magic tricks merely refusing to disclaim them as mere tricks. In my opinion, he was a spiritualistic fraud. And continues to be.

If Geller is still deceiving people by pretending he has spiritual or psychic powers, we should feel sorry for those credulous folks. But we shouldn’t feel sorry for the New York Times, which actually makes a kind of hero out of Geller, declaring him victorious over James Randi, who in my view is the real hero, or at least a thoroughly admirable man. Why is the Times so eager to push woo?

New college admissions scam

May 19, 2023 • 12:00 pm

This article at ProPublica  (also co-published at the Chronicles of Higher Education) recounts what I consider a “scam” because it seems to be a largely unethical way to get students into college. Now that affirmative action is about to go down the drain, and standardized tests like the SAT are becoming more and more optional (the two issues are connected), canny entrepreneurs are developing new ways to give students college-worthy credentials.  But it sounds dubious to me.

Click to read:

Here’s how it works:

A.)  A company arises that promises to help students get into college by having them get some research published. (Real published research by high school students is rare).  They charge huge fees: from several thousand dollars to more than $10,000.

B.) Usually the companies pair a student with a “mentor”, a professor or graduate student who can help the student cobble together a paper.  (As you can imagine, many–but not all–of these papers are not of high quality.)  The “mentors” are paid huge fees for this: up to $200 per hour, far higher than graduate student wages)

C.) A publication is founded that will consider and accept papers written by high-school students (as you might guess, the ideas and writing itself often comes from the “mentors”).  Here’s one of them: the Scholarly Review. These journals also show “preprints”, unreviewed manuscripts that a student can put on their college-application c.v. There are many of these journals, and, unfortunately, some are connected with the very companies that charge students for getting mentors to help them write papers for college applications. Looking at the link will give you an idea about what counts as “publication.”

As you can imagine, many of these journals aren’t very selective, and publish papers with no reviews and no corrections. As the article says, “Almost any high school paper can find an outlet,”

D.) The papers are then touted on college applications. They do seem to help, but of course few evaluators are able to find time to read the papers, much less assess the research. Overall, it does burnish an application, though a lot of the burnishing is bogus. Given the stiff competition to get into good schools, though, parents are willing to pay high fees for the “service.”

E.) As it’s even harder for foreign students to get into American universities, there’s a lot of money to be made getting students overseas to “publish”. Here’s one company in India:

A short walk from India’s first Trump Tower, in an upscale neighborhood known for luxury homes and gourmet restaurants, is the Mumbai office of Athena Education, a startup that promises to help students “join the ranks of Ivy League admits.” An attendant in a white uniform waits at a standing desk to greet visitors in a lounge lined with paintings and featuring a coffee bar and a glass facade with a stunning view of the downtown skyline. “We all strive to get things done while sipping Italian coffee brewed in-house,” a recent Athena ad read.

Co-founded in 2014 by two Princeton graduates, Athena has served more than 2,000 students. At least 80 clients have been admitted to elite universities, and 87% have gotten into top-50 U.S. colleges, according to its website. One client said that Athena charges more than a million rupees, or $12,200 a year, six times India’s annual per capita income. Athena declined comment for this story.

Around 2020, Athena expanded its research program and started emphasizing publication. Athena and similar services in South Korea and China cater to international students whose odds of getting accepted at a U.S. college are even longer than those American students face. MIT, for instance, accepted 1.4% of international applicants last year, compared with 5% of domestic applicants.

A former consultant said Athena told her that its students were the “creme de la creme.” Instead, she estimated, 7 out of 10 needed “hand-holding.”

For publication, Athena students have a readily available option: Questioz, an online outlet founded by an Athena client and run by high schoolers. Former Editor-in-Chief Eesha Garimella said that a mentor at Athena “guides us on the paper editing and publication process.” Garimella said Questioz publishes 75%-80% of submissions.

Athena students also place their work in the Houston-based Journal of Student Research. Founded in 2012 to publish undergraduate and graduate work, in 2017 the journal began running high school papers, which now make up 85% of its articles, co-founders Mir Alikhan and Daharsh Rana wrote in an email.

Last June, a special edition of the journal presented research by 19 Athena students. They tested noise-reduction algorithms and used computer vision to compare the stances of professional and amateur golfers. A survey of Hong Kong residents concluded that people who grew up near the ocean are more likely to value its conservation. Athena’s then-head of research was listed as a co-author on 10 of the projects.

Publication in JSR was “pretty simple,” said former Athena student Anjani Nanda, who surveyed 103 people about their awareness of female genital mutilation and found that they were poorly informed. “I never got any edits or suggested changes from their side.”

As colleges abandon indices of merit (this is of course a way to accept students who would not get in using traditional merits), and go to “holistic” evaluation, this kind of scam will become more and more common. For you can include anything that makes you stand out as “holistic”, and money-grubbing  people will find a way to take advantage of that.

h/t: Steve

PBS touts tarot

August 25, 2022 • 10:45 am

The nextavenue site is actually an arm of the Public Broadcasting Service, 15% (or more) of which is funded by the taxpayers via the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It’s targeted to older adults. As its site says:

Next Avenue is a nonprofit, digital journalism publication produced by Twin Cities PBS (TPT). As public media’s first and only national publication for older adults, we are dedicated to covering the issues that matter most as we age.

And this logo is at the bottom of today’s article, which is about something that doesn’t matter more when we age:

This part-government sponsorship means that taxpayers like me are funding what nextavenue puts out. And what it has put out is a piece promoting the virtues of tarot cards (National Public Radio has done the same thing.) The free article is below; click the screenshot to read.

Of course PBS can’t just say that tarot cards flat-out can predict the future, for its listeners and readers are more sophisticated than that. Still, the article says that prediction is part of what tarot can do—but there’s so much more!

As it turns out, tarot is not just for prediction but to stimulate your mind and explore possibilities you haven’t realized. In other words, as all these articles about tarot in the liberal press maintain, it can be a device for getting you to think about your life and ponder future behaviors. It’s psychology, Jake! I wonder why more psychologists haven’t hit on tarot cards as a professional aid!

I’ll be brief and just quote some of the article’s waffling. This part is straight-out prediction:

People can read tarot cards for themselves or work with an experienced tarot reader. Beginning by focusing on a question is a good idea, even something simple like “What will this week be like?” Then draw a single card and see what it might tell you.

Remember, you have to pay tarot card readers, sometimes a lot, and often they want you to come back. If these people are not trained in therapy, and tell you what they’re doing, then they’re clearly taking money under false pretenses. But that’s the American way! Here’s one reader:

Nancy Antenucci is a St. Paul, Minnesota-based tarot reader in her sixties, founder of the Twin Cities Tarot Collective and the author of two books, “Psychic Tarot” and “Tarot Rituals.” She sees tarot cards as being a language of imagery.

Sonia Choquette said that we should call intuition ‘pattern recognition,'” Antenucci says. “I totally agree with that. When you’re seeing the cards, all those pictures together, it opens up different patterns. What you’re doing is recognizing the patterns of something.”

While decks usually come with guidebooks to help users understand the potential meanings of each card, Antenucci encourages people to go with their instincts when they pull specific cards. “Every picture is going to strike every person differently, so there’s a lot that can happen across a whole spectrum of personalities,” she says.

That could be called “confirmation bias.” You read things the way you want them to be. But I digress. . . .

Imagine a deck focused on weather conditions across the four seasons. One person might pull a snowstorm card and be delighted — they love winter and snowstorms. But someone who hates winter is going to have a decidedly different visceral reaction. Neither is wrong; each reflects the person drawing the card.

“The biggest misconception is that tarot is only used for prediction,” Antenucci says. “It’s also used for brainstorming, or storytelling, or writing or prompts.”

Here we see the usual excuse: it can be used for prediction, but the cards can also prompt you to tell stories or call up other ideas.  But if is to do that, shouldn’t we stop using the traditional decks used for prediction and make new decks with drawings and words inspired by modern psychology? What about Rorshach cards?

Here are Sonia Chouette’s fees, by the way. As far as I know, no therapist charges $1200 an hour.

Further on in the piece, an artist weighs in saying that the cards “can help people see things differently,” and that her drawing students get suggestions inspired by the teacher’s own part-time vocation as a tarot reader.

I won’t go on further. In short, what we see is a taxpayer-funded venue touting the supernatural, but partly hiding it under a bushel labeled “psychology.”

When I read stuff like this, I do wonder whether people attracted by tarot, crystals, and other things have a deep need for the supernatural, one that in other people is satisfied by religion. I often hear people with “belief in belief” argue that religion isn’t vanishing in America, but is simply being diverted into religion-like endeavors, like reading tarot cards. Or being woke.  While some of that may be true, I still think that the data show America becoming increasingly secular over time, so that one fine day, when my atoms have become clay, the U.S. will have the religiosity of Scandinavia—hardly any at all.

But grifters gotta grift, so we’ll always have tarot, psychics, and other scammers.

h/t: Ginger K.

The diversity training racket

April 22, 2021 • 12:45 pm

I know virtually nothing about Tablet, but they’ve done what looks to me like some good reporting over the past few years, including the revelations about anti-Semitism among the leaders of the original Women’s March. I don’t know anything about its political stand, if it has one—only that they usually (but not always) write about things of specific interest to Jewish people. Bari Weiss used to write for them.

I just looked up the short Wikipedia article on Tablet, and while it says nothing about its politics, it did reveal two other pieces of reporting that had substantial effects:

In 2012, questions by Michael C. Moynihan, writing for Tablet, led to Jonah Lehrer’s resignation from The New Yorker: Lehrer had invented and cobbled together quotes attributed to Bob Dylan for his book, Imagine: How Creativity Works.

In 2017, Tablet hired Gretchen Rachel Hammond, a Chicago journalist fired from her job at Windy City Times after breaking the news of Jewish activists being expelled from the Chicago Dyke March.

I’ve written about both of those issues; the Lehrer exposé pretty much discredited him for good, as his plagiarism and propensity for fabrication were widespread beyond the Dylan thing.

Here’s another Tablet article that looks pretty substantial, and it’s about what I call the “diversity racket”—the lucrative business of selling “diversity and inclusion training” to public schools and colleges. That business is not only lucrative, but, sadly, ineffectual, as author Sean Cooper reveals. And it’s also invidious in how it goes about “training” people.

Cooper also profiles two programs, “Roses in Concrete”(an ethnic studies program) and “Pollyanna” (a diversity training company), but I’ll leave the details for your own perusal. Do realize that diversity training is connected to ethnic studies, as implementing the latter is almost an inevitable result of implementing the former. And often the same people, both teachers and administrators, promote both. I’ll mostly discuss the training, but have a few words on curriculum:

Click on the screenshot to read:

I’ll just give their (and my) take on a few of the questions involved. Quotes from the article are indented.

a.) Do we need such training? If there are problems in schools or the workplace caused by racism, then something needs to be done about it. The problem is that what is being done about it is what you might expect: selling a narrative of oppressors vs. the oppressed, unconscious racism, the identification of one’s persona with one’s race and pigmentation, and the pervasiveness of systemic racism: in other words, the essence of Critical Race Theory. And, as the article emphasizes, it not only fails to work, but makes the problem worse. It’s above my pay grade to answer this first question myself, but if there were non-divisive ways to quash bigotry, it would be worth investigating them. Do teachers and students need that kind of training? That’s a different question.

b.) What does it cost? As you might expect based on the ginormous fees charged by people like Ibram Kendi and Robin DiAngelo for a single talk, diversity training is expensive. Remember, it’s done by private consultants who make a living from it.  Here are details from one program:

Soon, according to pricing documents obtained by Tablet, Pollyanna was charging upwards of $1,750 per hour to schools that contractually committed to “incorporate racial literacy content in the classroom,” $6,000 for a half-day presentation on how to bring administrators up to speed on the basics of anti-racism, and $21,000 plus travel expenses for a three-day Internal Curriculum Review and Development for schools exploring the possibility of implementing a full-scale DEI overhaul of their entire administrative and classroom playbooks.

Here’s a program run by an ethnic-studies professor at San Francisco State:

Professor Tintiangco-Cubales herself co-runs a consultancy called Community Responsive Education Corp., which billed $11,000 for teacher training at Poway Unified School District, $65,000 for a keynote address and a professional development workshop series for the leadership team of Chula Vista Elementary, and $40,000 “to facilitate the development of Ethnic Studies units and lessons” at the Jefferson Elementary School District, south of San Francisco. Tintiangco-Cubales, who did not respond to Tablet’s request to discuss her consultancy, works outside California as well, notably as a lead trainer for a Boston consortium of educators in a project funded, in part, by Peter Buffett’s NoVo Foundation.

c.) How does it work? The report from Tablet describes one curriculum for students that’s especially invidious, but I suspect most of them use boilerplate CRT stuff. This report, however, angered me:

The Racial Literacy Curriculum begins in kindergarten with 5- and 6-year-olds using Pantone Color Charts to match their skin tone so that they might start to see themselves and one another by skin color. “Recognizing and categorizing color is a foundational skill for early grades, and will be used as a platform for upcoming lessons that discuss skin color.”

This curriculum includes a unique view of nearly every educational discipline, such as in sixth grade history where children discover that the essence of Nazism was not the destruction of European Jewry but the rise of “whiteness.” Pollyanna’s main coverage of the Jewish experience is reduced to an odd and passing reference to the “Eastern European Hebrew” race.

By eighth grade, the curriculum’s goal is to create “social justice” action plans that address how “systemic racism provided social, economic, political, and legal advantages to White Americans.” Students devise plans and launch campaigns that seek to overturn white privilege in the “community or city of the student body, or may reach broader, such as to the national level and beyond.”

Color charts to see how much of a “person of color” you are?  Right off the bat–in kindergarten–students learn to self-classify BY PIGMENT. And if you look up California’s proposed Ethnic Studies curriculum, it’s largely along these lines as well, though there don’t seem to be pigment charts.

d.) Does it work? There are two questions here. Does diversity training make people less bigoted and workplaces and schools more harmonious? Second, do ethnic studies curricula improve student performance?

The Tablet article goes into some detail about both of these, and the answer is the same for both: NOPE. While some promoters of the programs claim they work, examination by both Tablet and outside academic reviewers say otherwise.  Here’s for workplace training:

Workplace DEI practices, on the other hand, have been studied by a variety of researchers, who have found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that employees who spend their mornings in a conference room calling each other racist and oppressive often struggle to return to work as colleagues.

Indeed, rather than reducing bias, improving morale, increasing opportunity for minority groups, or boosting productivity and workplace satisfaction, DEI training initiatives are frequently ineffective and, despite intentions, counterproductive. A growing body of quantitative research has shown that DEI training can make workplaces more biased, atomized, discriminatory, and hostile, even or especially for the very minority groups it’s intended to help.

One group of researchers from Arizona State University and Columbia University investigated the efficacy of bias-reduction training and found that after workplace hiring managers were taught to combat various stereotypes, they were more likely to apply those stereotypes in hiring practices. Another recent study determined that “white privilege” training increased hostility towards a variety of groups, including a significant decrease in sympathy for the plight of “poor white people,” as they had failed to properly leverage their inherent privilege. A 2018 experiment concluded that exposure to DEI practices strengthened stereotypical views, concluding that “well-intentioned efforts to portray the value of differences may reinforce the belief that fixed, biological characteristics underpin them.”

DEI may also be enflaming gender tensions. Another review of corporate workplaces found that female employees “were less supportive of sexism litigation when the company offered diversity training,” because the training itself increased the false belief that the workplace had become less biased.

Ethnic studies programs seem to be equally ineffective in improving student performance, though one could argue that improvement in performance is not their goal. (I would claim that they should boost performance by improving morale and academic climate.) Regardless, there are several programs that have been ditched by school systems because they’re either ineffective or detrimental in helping students do better academically. Here’s one:

Incubated at San Francisco State’s Ethnic Studies Lab, the Roses in Concrete project began piloting a new K-8 ethnic studies curriculum implemented by the Oakland School Board in its district in 2015. But in 2019, when Duncan-Andrade’s top deputies appeared before the school board on the matter of a charter renewal for Roses in Concrete, the district staff explained to the board that Roses in Concrete should not receive a three-year contract renewal because of the continued occurrence of “significant negative outcomes.” In the final year of the curriculum, in fact, 88% of students failed to demonstrate proficiency on California English exams, a number eclipsed by the 98% of students who failed to pass the proficiency threshold for math. The new program had also sent families fleeing, with more than 100 students leaving before the 2018 academic year.

e.) If the programs are expensive and don’t work, why are they proliferating? You know the answer as well as I. Given the Zeitgeist and the pervasiveness of Wokeism in schools, schools have to look like they’re doing something, that they’re tackling the problem.  Hiring companies to train your students is an investment you can point to: “We’re spending money getting reputable companies to help us become diverse and inclusive.”

And, as Kurt Vonnegut said, “So it goes.”

Another predatory journal in “deadly need” of a paper

June 17, 2020 • 8:30 am

I doubt that there’s a scientist alive who doesn’t get one of these predatory journal pleas on a regular basis. They’re never in my field (this one is in agriculture and soil science!), and they are in deadly need of a 2-page opinion piece for the next issue of their sub-sub-substandard journal.

I’d be tempted to submit something humorous, but a. it’s work and b. it would debase the scientific enterprise. Instead, I’ll show you the email for your delectation.

If you look up the location of the journal’s “offices” in San Francisco, you’ll find they are virtual offices, providing only the appearance of an office with a mailing address and someone to answer the telephone.

In other words, although the journal is real, it’s a predatory journal that exploits scientists who need papers on their c.v.s, making money by charging exorbitant publication fees. I suspect the real offices are overseas given the fractured English in the email (“deadly need”, “please tack the below link”, probably meaning “tick”), which of course means the email is lying.

Perhaps an enterprising reader would want to call up “Emma Megan” at the number and see what transpires.

World Journal of Agriculture and Soil Science <agri@irissciences.com>
Wed 6/17/2020 5:38 AM
To: Jerry Coyne

Dear Dr. Jerry A Coyne,


Hope you are doing very well!

Well, we are in deadly need of only one article to release Volume 5 Issue 2 before End of this Month. Is it possible for you to support us with your 2-page Opinion or Mini Review for this issue?

Please tack the below link to visit on our journal website

Please acknowledge this email to submit your manuscript.

Emma Megan | Managing Editor
World Journal of Agriculture and Soil Science (WJASS) | [ISSN: 2641-6379]
Iris Publishers LLC,315 Montgomery Street, San Francisco, CA 94104, USA.
Web: irispublishers.com| Email Id: agri@irispublishers.com |Tel no: +1-628-201-9788

The “adjust my headset” robocall scam; do not say “yes”!

February 16, 2017 • 12:45 pm

In the past week this has happened almost every day to me: I’ll get a call at work, or on my cellphone, and when I say “hello,” nobody answers at first. I then say “hello” louder, and shortly a woman comes on saying, “Oh, I’m sorry, I was having trouble with my headset. Can you hear me now?” It sounds real, but if you say something, like “who are you?”, she doesn’t respond. It’s a trick call, clearly one meant to scam you or sell you something, but it’s nefarious. I’ve started shouting obscenities to the woman (who is actually a recording) before slamming down the phone, but I wonder if anybody else has experienced it. What are they selling?

It seems like a neat trick because it’s realistic, but it doesn’t take more than a few seconds to discover that it’s not a real person on the other end of the line, and so what’s the point?

Here’s the point. A bit of Googling turned up this, at Highya:

How the “Can you Hear Me” Scam Works:

“Your phone rings and the other person on the end of the line asks, ‘can you hear me?’” explained Lohman, a detective for the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office Thousand Oaks Division.

Typically, people will answer “yes.”

But that’s the exact answer these criminals are looking for. And with one little word, you can become a victim.

“The ‘yes’ response is referred to as a voice signature,” Lohman explained. “Companies will legitimately use this to show that you have agreed to a service, change or upgrade.”

However, the scammer will record your “yes” response, which allows them to authorize unwanted upgrades or services.

Scammers have become savvy with this crime, so be mindful of any question that prompts a “yes,” “sure,” or “okay” response. Some criminals might even go as far as editing your words to make it sound like you gave authorization.

“The ‘yes’ constitutes a verbal contract for additional services,” Lohman said. “It’s similar to clicking the ‘agree’ on a contract received via computer to accept additional services.”

But the scammer’s goal is to sell you products, upgrades or services you do not want, such as cruises, vacation packages, warranties or other big ticket items.

Here’s the scam I got:

However, there are ways to differentiate whether you’re receiving a call from a robot or an actual person.

Lohman learned first-hand.

“I got a call one time and it was silent for a second,” he recalled. “And then the person on the other line said, ‘oh, I’m sorry, I’m adjusting my headset’.”

The caller then went immediately into the sales pitch.

“As soon as it went into the sales pitch, I immediately hung up,” Lohman said. “I didn’t stay on the phone long enough to hear the pitch.”

If there’s a pause between you saying “hello” and the response from the caller, there’s a good chance it’s a scam. That’s because it takes a few brief moments for a computerized voice recognition system to know there’s someone on the other line.

“If you say hello and you just sit there and don’t interact and the other person continues to talk, it very well might be a scam,” Lohman said. “If I said hello, I would expect you to say hello back, like a typical conversation. I wouldn’t expect you to go into a sales pitch.”

This scam can also be detected by asking questions of the caller.

“If I start to talk and the caller on the other line is still talking over me, it’s a good chance it’s a robocall,” Lohman said.

Shouting obscenities works just as well.

My heart is breaking

September 22, 2014 • 4:59 am

It used to be penis-enlargement devices, then Nigerian money scams, and now this:

from tgraffga [tgraffga@aol.com]

I’m writing this with tears in my eyes, my family and I came down here to  Kiev, Ukraine  for a short vacation,unfortunately we were mugged at the park of the hotel where we stayed all cash,credit card and mobile phone were stolen off us but luckily we still have our passports with us.

We’ve been to the Embassy and the Police here but they’re not helping issues at all the bad news is our flight will be leaving in less than 8-hrs from now but we’re having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won’t let us leave until we settle the bills.

I’ll need your help (LOAN) financially of $2,500. I promise to make the refund once we get back home. Please let me know if i can count on you and i need you to keep checking your email because it’s the only way i can reach you.

Does anybody actually fall for this, especially because such requests come from strangers?! Sometimes I have the desire just to play along with these people up to the moment when I have to surrender financial information.

As far as I know, you have to be an aol.com user to report this kind of stuff to aol.