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Pop Quiz: Consumer Ripoffs

Donate How well do you know your Skeptoid? Today's pop quiz focuses on consumer ripoffs.  

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Consumer Ripoffs

Skeptoid Podcast #654
December 18, 2018
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Pop Quiz: Consumer Ripoffs

Take your seats, class, because it's time for another pop quiz! If you think you've done well enough on the previous quizzes, today is my chance to knock you down a peg. Today's topic is consumer ripoffs: snake-oil products and other scams that leave the scientifically illiterate vulnerable to being taken advantage of.

So let's begin. If you want time to think about each of these, just be ready to hit the pause button before I give the answer, and feel free to take as much time as you need. And don't try to look for a pattern, because I used a D6 die as a random number generator to place each correct answer.

1. Network Marketing

What were once called multi-level marketing programs — barely-legal variations on pyramid schemes — such as Amway, Herbalife, and doTerra have rebranded themselves as network marketing in an effort to escape the stigma. Surveys of participants have proven what the statistical models predict, which is that virtually no participants ever either successfully sign people up as distributors, or successfully sell the products to anyone else. What percentage of all MLM participants lose money, rounded to the nearest percentage point?

A. 50%
B. 98%
C. 100%

Reveal the answer

2. How Your Credit Card Got Stolen

Sooner or later, nearly everyone's credit card number gets caught up in a data breach, and receives some fraudulent charges. In an effort to defend against this, some people always try for the latest and greatest high-tech way to transact securely; others go the opposite direction and only use their card when a paper slip is used, hoping to avoid all electronic transmission of their number. Which of these three is the riskiest way to use your card?

A. Using your card via a phone app such as Apple Pay or Android Pay
B. Swiping the magnetic strip
C. Using a chip card

Reveal the answer

3. Cleansing Diets

It's finally become well reported in the mass media that cleansing regimens, such as 7-day courses of juice drinks, do your body more harm than good, by causing it to scavenge its own lean mass to make up for missing nutrients. And it's also becoming increasingly reported that the idea of "cleansing" some hypothetical "toxins" from your body is pure pseudoscience; as the filtration of actual toxins and waste is done quite effectively by your liver and your kidneys. Thus, the marketers have to resort to deceptive claims to keep the customers coming. Which of these demographics is the biggest target market for cleansing products?

A. Poorly educated young men
B. Well educated young women
C. Well educated older adults

Reveal the answer

4. Speed Reading

Speed reading courses still promise to help you boost your reading speed to astronomical levels, even though decades of research has proven that getting faster always comes at the expense of comprehension. In fact, it's been shown that record-setting speed readers have about the same comprehension level as people who haven't read the text at all. When average people sit down to read something with their desired, natural level of comprehension, about what speed do they read at?

A. 1200 words a minute
B. 600 words a minute
C. 300 words a minute

Reveal the answer

5. Immune System Boosting

Just as we've started to see with cleansing products, there's been a detectable uptick in the mass media of correct reporting of the fact that products claiming to "boost your immune system" are deceptive. The immune system must be delicately balanced; too weak of an immune system leaves us vulnerable to pathogens; too strong of an immune system triggers autoimmune diseases, which are not something you want. Which of these is not a consequence of a boosted immune system?

A. Obesity
B. Psoriasis
C. Multiple sclerosis

Reveal the answer

6. How Your Password Got Stolen

One of the worst things you can do online is to use the same password on many websites, or on your email, or other services. If your data ever got caught up in one of the large public data breaches, and if that breach included that password, you may find out that many of your accounts have been broken into. Which of these three options is the safest password policy to follow?

A. Use your browser's built-in password manager to create strong passwords
B. Follow the instructions on websites for creating a password that includes a certain combination of letters, numbers, and special characters
C. Choose an easily remembered password consisting of a long string of common words

Reveal the answer

7. Bullshido

Martial arts are full of woo, especially when hucksters offer to sell amazing secrets like the touchless knockout. One such example was a booklet called The World's Deadliest Fighting Secrets that used to be sold in the backs of comic books. Who was its author?

A. Count Dante
B. George Dillman
C. Bruce Lee

Reveal the answer

8. Cryotherapy

Cryotherapy is a current fad where you get into a chamber for three minutes at temperatures as low as -170°C/-275°F. Claims for its medical benefits are myriad, but many focus on athletic recovery, just like using an icepack. It does not have this effect, because cold air is a terrible conductor of heat. Which of the following effects does cryotherapy actually have?

A. Can reduce inflammation
B. Gives you a rush akin to the fight-or-flight response
C. Has some effectiveness at treating psoriasis

Reveal the answer

9. Alkaline Water Machines

Among the many products sold through network marketing schemes are machines that claim to ionize and alkalize your water, which, they claim, provides a huge range of health benefits. But since pure water is not electrically conductive, it can't really be ionized; so to make this possible, you have to add a special solution to your water to make it alkaline — a solution which is almost as expensive as the machine itself. There is no medically sound reason you'd want to do this, but assuming you did want to anyway just for grins, you could accomplish the same thing by adding a bit of what to your regular tap water?

A. Bleach
B. Beer
C. Vinegar

Reveal the answer

10. Space Properties for Sale

Many companies offer to sell you either real estate on Mars or the Moon, or the naming rights to celestial bodies such as stars or asteroids. Few of these services are legitimate, as any names they might sell are not legally recognized by anyone. Which is the one organization on Earth which, by international treaty, is actually authorized to sell star naming rights?

A. The International Star Registry
B. The International Astronomical Union
C. Nobody

Reveal the answer

And so ends this week's pop quiz. How did you do? If you got all ten right, either you're naturally really good at protecting yourself from scams, or else Skeptoid is doing its job at finding the intersection between science literacy and consumer protection. As always, tweet me your score at, or post it to the Skeptoid Podcast page on Facebook.

Correction: An earlier version of this accidentally had two correct answers offered for #9. Baking soda was a choice, which would also make your water alkaline. —BD

By Brian Dunning

Please contact us with any corrections or feedback.


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Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "Pop Quiz: Consumer Ripoffs." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 18 Dec 2018. Web. 22 Apr 2024. <>


References & Further Reading

Bloch, Brian. "Multilevel marketing: what's the catch?" Journal of Consumer Marketing. 1 Oct. 1996, Volume 13, Issue 4: 18-26.

Britt, Robert Roy. "Name a Star? The Truth about Buying Your Place in Heaven." Nightsky., 15 Sep. 2003. Web. 3 Jan. 2010. <>

Crislip, M. "Boost Your Immune System?" Science-Based Medicine. Science-Based Medicine, 25 Sep. 2009. Web. 7 Oct. 2010. <>

Editors. "Nothing Tastes as Good as Skinny Feels." Bloomberg Businessweek. Bloomberg LP, 18 Feb. 2011. Web. 2 Nov. 2012. <>

El Issa, E. "How Your Credit Card Numbers Are Stolen." Credit Cards. NerdWallet, Inc., 22 Apr. 2015. Web. 8 Jan. 2017. <>

Kelly, M. "Fact or Fiction: Medical Science Examines Dim Mak and its Infamous Death Touch." Black Belt. 21 Sep. 2002, Volume 40, Number 9: 79-82.

Lower, Stephen. "'Ionized' and Alkaline Water." Water Pseudoscience and Quackery. AquaScams, 11 May 2009. Web. 14 Jan. 2010. <>

OrangeCat. "How to Protect your Password in 2016: 6 Steps to a Secure Password." Articles. OrangeCat Software, LLC, 1 Jan. 2017. Web. 6 Jan. 2017. <>

Propatier, S. "Cryotherapy: What Works and What Doesn’t." Skeptoid Blog. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 30 Nov. 2014. Web. 28 Oct. 2015. <>

Rayner, K. "Eye movements in reading and information processing: 20 years of research." Psychological Bulletin. 1 Nov. 1998, Volume 124, Number 3: 372-422.


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