A new Chinese proverb could read, “Beware Chinese sending fake gifts”. Chris received a present in the mail from China this week. At least that is what he initially thought. It was Fathers’ Day at the weekend and his suggestion was that Sarah might have sent him an unexpected gift. Exactly why she would have sent Chris fake Versace ankle socks isn’t so clear. Nor is it likely that she wouldn’t have mentioned sending him a present when we talked at weekend (unless she was so embarrassed by her choice that she didn’t want to mention it?!). A final nail in the present-from-Sarah coffin was that the socks are three different sizes – large, medium and small. It really is quite unlikely that Sarah would be so unsure of Chris’s sock size that she would send him a selection of socks in the hope that one of the three pairs would fit him.
This isn’t about criticising Chris, although it might sound that way. Some people appear to be born with an extra processing loop in their brains that asks “Really”, before believing in something. I am one of those people and Chris was born without that loop. The presence of my processing loop means I question many things before acting on them. My processing loop does not make my life easy. It means I question lots of things when other people would prefer not to think about them at all. It means I get worried about a whole lot of things that it might, or might not, be necessary to worry about. However, on this occasion my concern was well founded and Chris’s breezing on through was not necessarily the best course of action.
The first thing I did was question my brain for similar occurrences. I had heard about strange seed packets from China turning up in the mail in the USA, and then starting to turn up in other places in the world, including in New Zealand. My brain suggested that the Chinese packets might have extended from seeds to socks, but why? My next point of call was, of course, the internet. A quick web search revealed that the unexpected Chinese packets had indeed broadened in their contents, including as far as used socks! I couldn’t find any reference to socks turning up in New Zealand, but I did find that people were theorising that the rationale behind the packages is ‘brushing scams’.
A brushing scam is where a company creates fake sales, and allied fake reviews for its products, through sending unsolicited goods. The number of items sold are an important part of a company’s e-commerce site ratings, reviews are another factor. By sending unsolicited product companies can theoretically boost their ratings because they have ‘evidence’ of transactions, meaning their products end up at the top of internet searches. Being part of a brushing scam isn’t good but also doesn’t affect one very much. However, something about the sock package rang further alarm bells for me. When I looked up the company name on the package, it didn’t appear on the internet and the address doesn’t exist either. I found other people referring to this name and address, saying that they are not valid – the people were trying to send the goods back (certainly not something that entered my mind, I wouldn’t be aiming to pay money to return something I never asked for in the first place). So why would a company send out packages from a name that isn’t their own? It is hard to see how that would raise its ratings on the internet.
The next thought that leaped both into my mind and my internet search results was, data breach = credit card fraud. I had suggested to Chris that he checked his credit card, I pressed this as a fairly urgent matter. Sure enough, when he looked back through his transactions, there is a random transaction for us USD74.74 from a company whose name rings no bells whatsoever and is not related to any transactions he knowingly made. The amount is quite different to the USD15.00 that the socks are supposedly worth according to the package (I would guess more like USD1 in reality). The appearance of this transaction in parallel with the socks is too great a coincidence to be ignored.
Chris has now contacted his credit card company and will get a new card; there must, however, be thousands of people out there who don’t check their statements in detail and millions of dollars garnered in this process. The bit that still doesn’t make sense to me though is, why would you send the person you are defrauding a message (package) announcing that you are defrauding them? I now wonder if Chris’s information has been sold. Perhaps there are two different organisations who have separately bought the information; one is carrying out brushing scams and another completely separate one is stealing money from credit cards. I guess when you are buying stolen data you can’t be picky about how many people it might be being sold to. How many more organisations might be out there with his information and what might they be doing with it….?
Apart from this being a warning to any of you interested in protecting your money or your privacy, what does it matter that some people have ‘Really’ loops in their heads and others don’t? For me, one of the things it comes back to is the notion of everyone having equally valid opinions, as per my thoughts on my book club discussion. If everyone’s opinions are equally valid, then Chris’s supposition that there was no problem and Sarah had sent random socks should simply be respected and he would be USD74.74 worse off (with likely more amounts of debit to follow in due course). To me, the ‘Really’ loop is about the importance of questioning and collecting of evidence to support or deny suppositions i.e. the process of thought and action that is called ‘science’. Without such a thought process, we tend to believe what we are presented with, or experience individually, without deeper questioning. Or, worse, we believe what we are presented with on the basis that other people (who may well be similarly unquestioning) believe it too. Without such a thought process, we easily fall prey to scams of every sort, and are vulnerable to conspiracy theories, as are so very prevalent at present. However, as to the obvious question of when people should switch on/off the ‘really’ feedback loop, because it interferes with social niceties, I have no simple answer! I realise the I could do with a modulation switch, but neither the designer nor operator seem to have implemented that particular piece of software yet.
As a final thought…Mainland China has not reported a new locally transmitted case of COVID-19 since 15 August. Really?