IN-DEPTH: How Infoscammers Hijacked The Placebo Effect To Rip You Off

Fraud is prevalent on the Internet.  Scattered through the Net are Web-based infoscams that overcharge or steal your money for various cures, pain relievers and tonics.  Most all of them are selling diet schemes, supplements, pills, lotions, plans and other snake-oil remedies to many of the things that ail us:

    • Diabetes
    • Tinnitus
    • Stomach ailments
    • Obesity
    • Memory Loss
    • Depression

These unscrupulous marketers have seized upon some very sophisticated selling techniques to lure consumers’ into their marketing traps.  But perhaps their most effective tool is the scientifically-established placebo effect.  It is estimated that between 30-60% of patients find relief from placebos.  That means as much as half of the people who spend money on cures may feel some improvement, even if they are being given fake pills or fake info.   Enter the infoscammers.

Who Are These Infoscammers?

We call these sites infoscammers because they mostly follow the same template:   Product Description, Examination Record,  Review or Analysis, Site Preview, Download button, Pros and Disadvantages and Conclusion.   Many of them also have a Leave Page Pop-Up that makes it difficult to return to your Google search. A common scheme they use is “affiliate marketing” by which they try to trick you into thinking that other consumers vouch for the product.   They are hawked by affiliate websites that come by a whole array of names, such as “Daily Scam Reviews“, “Review Tools” “Scam Review Today“, “ScamX”, “Queen’s Reviews” and other such sounding websites.  The vast majority of them are  little more than automated shills for these scam sites, designed to conceal real scam reports.   They are authored by professional fake review writing services or “reputation management” companies. While they are all hawking different “products”, the infoscammers share many common sales tactics:

1.   They have a link or embedded video of the product/service offer.  If the outgoing link on the review product includes an affiliate tracking code, then you can be sure they are being compensated by the link.

2.   They don’t have a link describing the qualifications of the “reviewer”.

3.   Many of them don’t have a “Contact Us” menu or reveal information about the reviewing organization itself.

4.   The quality of the writing is odd — either bad translations or boilerplate sounding sentences.

5.   The information at the web site is limited to reviews.    If the entire site is nothing seemingly impartial reviews, then the author has no expectation of having visitors return, and consequently, no risk of losing regular visitors.

6.  They raise conspiracies.  Some “government agency doesn’t want you to know about them”, they most all claim.  It may be true, but it’s not for the reason they assert.   The government agencies and big corporations aren’t looking to quash their ideas as much as hold them accountable for their unscientific, bogus claims.

7.  They offer guarantees.  Any offer which uses the word “guarantee” or “no-risk” should be viewed somewhat skeptically.  The only deals that is guaranteed are Treasury Bonds, and even there, some governments default on bonds.  There’s risk in almost all transactions because otherwise, your return would be close to the 1% or so that you’ll get from the bank for your savings account.   Scammers love to use those two words, so when you see or hear those questionable words in an offer, be careful.

Validate Everything They Say

For example, recently we came across a “Dr” Ryan Shelton peddling supplements at various Internet sites, such as the Hair Revital X, Join FLX,  Longevity Activator, SoundQuility, SouthBeach Skin Lab, Diabetes 60, Zenith Detox, Zoom Wellness, and even fertility treatments among other things.   Ryan Shelton is not a medical doctor, but a naturopath.  However, he bills himself as a physician, which is a violation of law in California.  On one of his web offerings,  he calls himself a “licensed primary care physician” yet there’s no listing of him in the Hawaiian Licensing Division as a medical doctor. Why does he lie about his qualifications? On another website, Shelton asserts that:  ” I founded and developed Whole-Body Health, a family practice in Kansas City. On top of all that I’m also the head researcher, formulator and consultant at the University Compounding Pharmacy in San Diego.”   If Whole-Body Health once existed in Kansas City, it does no more.  Whole Body Health did appear to exist in Champaign, Illinois, but according to the state records, its license was issued in 2017 and expired in 2018.    And the San Diego compounding pharmacy denies any current business relationship with Shelton. The Zenith Labs website states:  “between his best-selling books and his medical practice in Hawaii, Dr. Ryan has helped hundreds of thousands of men & women…”   A search on Amazon Books finds no book authored or sold by Ryan Shelton.  Similarly, a search of the Library of Congress shows no book by Shelton.  Even Google comes up snake eyes.  Not only has Shelton not published any books, but whatever ebooks he has sold on the Internet can hardly be called “best selling”.   So, yeah, even believable sounding people are often peddling blatant lies on the Internet.

Make sure that whatever review site you rely upon has information about the reviewer and the organization and isn’t going to be making any money by linking you to that offering web site.  They are getting increasingly sophisticated.   For example,  “Real vs. Scam” is a very convincing faux review site.   It lists a large number of online product offerings  that are “reviewed” by some guy aptly named “Steven Wright”.   Not surprisingly, EVERY single offering that he “reviews” he seems to love.

Savvy Internet users who follow our basic rules for detecting scams will likely avoid these sales traps.  Within a few minutes, you can discover much about someone offering you a “deal”.  If you aren’t sure whether any offer that you are mulling over is a scam or not, feel free to ask us.  Just use this link to contact us and we’ll check it out for you.

Over the past few years, we’ve identified a handful of “gateway” websites that market many of these scams:  Clickbank, ClickSure, and Buygoods are some of the most prevalent ones. These companies are affiliate-marketing networks for digital products like eBooks, software and membership sites in different categories, handling credit card processing, accounting and payouts for these vendors.   Some of their products currently include a number of discredited “systems” that we’ve analyzed on this blog.

How They’ve Hijacked The Placebo Effect

The idea that your brain can convince your body a fake treatment is the real thing.  It’s referred to as the placebo effect and has been around for as long as humans have attempted to heal other humans.  However, scientists have been able to actually document how placebos work and have found that in some cases a placebo can be just as effective as traditional treatments.

According to Harvard University, while how placebos work is still not quite understood, it appears to involve a complex neurobiological reaction that includes everything from increases in feel-good neurotransmitters, like endorphins and dopamine, to greater activity in certain brain regions linked to moods, emotional reactions, and self-awareness.  It turns out that our beliefs are the result of physical processes in the brain – and it’s this conglomeration of neurochemical and electrical events , and their downstream effects, that creates a healing effect that is very real.

Science has learned and marketers have exploited the fact that the placebo effect relies on the patient believing in the power of the treatment being given to them, as well as their confidence in the people offering the cure.  Usually, that confidence is reserved for the doctor.   But the infoscammers use the power of crafted stories, peer pressure and upselling to inspire this confidence.  The more people pay, the more they are likely to rationalize that the cure is possible.  Research backs this up: a study that involved a placebo injection for the treatment of an allergic reaction found that symptom improvement was greater when the injection was given by a doctor conveying warmth and confidence.

The power of this effect shouldn’t be underestimated.   For example, in one particularly novel instance researchers tricked participants into thinking they’d had more sleep than they actually had, and then observed how this affected their performance the next day. After hearing that they’d had an impressive amount of sleep, participants performed better on tests of language and arithmetic. Other imaginative examples and manifestations of the placebo effect include the study that showed health gains among hotel cleaning staff who had been reminded that their work counts as exercise, including in terms of improvements to their weight, body mass index, body-fat, waist-to-hip ratio and blood pressure.

Infoscammers rely upon this effect to help them sell their schemes.   Whether it be pills or diets or lifestyle changes, almost half of the people who buy into these schemes are likely to experience some degree of relief due to the placebo effect.   Just take a look at the plethora of supplements for most every possible chronic illness peddled by Shelton’s Zenith Labs and you’ll get a taste of how Internet marketers are relying upon the placebo effect to sell their overpriced cures.

What To Do If You’ve Been Trapped In An Infoscam

In the meantime, buyer beware of ANY Net-based sales pitch that has uncredentialed, slick video presentations with no independent reviews. It may not be a scam, but it is probably a rip-off because it is overpriced for what it is offering.   In this case, there’s lots of good diet information in the marketplace offered at a fraction of the cost of most weight loss schemes.  Save your hard-earned money.

Your first step should be to contact your credit card company and have them discontinue any charges by the scammers.   This is called “disputing the charge”.  You need to state that you didn’t authorize the payments.   For most consumers, that ends the flow of money.

You need to also unsuscribe your email address from the scammers mailing list.  This should stop the steady stream of marketing pitches.

One additional warning:  once you give them your money, you’ll be tagged as “meat”.  Once they know that you’ll fall for this pitch, the same marketers will be coming back to you over and over and over for other such pitches.  So understand that if you pay these marketers anything….let alone $40…..they’ll continue to hound you with more slick schemes designed to prey on your fears and concerns.  Don’t open your door or wallet to them.

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