Friday, August 27 Part II

A few days ago, I posted my thoughts on the "penny auction" sites, naming as an example because their advertisements on Facebook were intriguing enough to at least get me over to their site. I expressed my opinion that penny auctions are a scam. They are at best a form of gambling.

Today, I was emailed a comment apparently from someone at When I came to the blog to respond to the comment, I couldn't find it. However, since it was emailed to me, I'll copy and paste it in here.
Good Afternoon George,

My name is Jennifer, Head of Customer Service for Swipebids. I assure
you our website is not a scam and is entirely legit, please visit the
information below for confirmation.

The registration
page where your credit card information is inputted into our system
, has 4 locations where we notify customers of our
$159 Membership fee. Provided in the link below, you will see 1 right above where your information is inputted, 2 are off to the left and the last is right above the "Start Bidding" button, which will finalize your registration.

We show on our website quite a few pages of past winners, included we
show the price it was sold at, retail price and you can even confirm the
tracking numbers by clicking on the number itself. We have also given
away numerous cars to bidders within the United States and Australia
which can be verified at the link below

We also sponsor numerous children through World Vision, the link below
will take you to the site where we describe how it all works and how we
started by sponsoring 100 children and we continue to add 1 more each
day in our effort to make a positive change.

If you have any other questions or concerns please do not hesitate to contact me personally at


Head of Customer Service

Our Winners:
Our World Vision Charity:
Our Customer Service Page:
My goodness. Where to begin? First, my name is Mark, it is not George. That leads me to question whether Jennifer meant to post her comment on another blog, hit mine by mistake, and after realizing her error, came back and deleted it.

Next, she defends the prominent placement of the $159 charge. I never said they were hiding it. My previous post mentions it clearly, in fact. It was right there on the home page. Let me be clear: is not hiding the fact that you will have to give them $159 before you can bid. They're just hoping you'll do it anyway.

After that, we see a declaration that people win these auctions. That is correct. Someone does win every auction. However, that does not change my opinion that they are a scam. Your odds of winning reduce dramatically as more people buy bids on the site, while the site operator's profits go up sharply. It's a lottery. Yes, someone wins every item. But hundreds more don't. They spend $159, they don't get any of the shiny items advertised, and they're presented with a consolation price that is worth less than a coffee at Starbucks.

Jennifer, if you want to dispute that, please give me just one piece of information. On average, how many LOSING bidders are there for each item? I'm guessing you'll tell me that information is confidential.

And finally, there's the tug at charity. Don't misunderstand me, I support anything that will feed hungry children. I give money to charity frequently, and if this company actually does give money to World Vision, they have my appreciation for that. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with how they acquired the money. It's just a cheap play for our emotions, and it comes across looking weak.

These penny auction sites are not illegal. I am not suggesting they are breaking the law in any way. They are, however, a lottery, a form of gambling, and in my opinion, a scam. They scam you because they do not disclose exactly how these "auctions" work, and they do not warn you that your odds of winning an item are actually quite low. At least in Vegas, you know the house wins 90% of the time.

I did get a bit of email asking for specific details on how these sites function. I'm going to link you to a terrific bit of reporting from, where they explain it plainly and reveal just what a sucker bet these penny auction sites are. They've done a better job at it than I could have, and they deserve the link. "Penny Auctions Bet on Chump Change."

As for Jennifer from, please do not hesitate to respond in a comment. I promise you that I will not delete it, nor edit it in any way. You can speak your piece. The facts are on my side in this discussion.

Monday, August 23

The scam of penny auctions:

Today I was motoring around Facebook, clicking status and taking names, when one of those sidebar ads caught my attention. They did it by appealing to my man gene. There are three ways to appeal to someone’s man gene. You can show him a woman in a seductive pose, you can show him a frosty mug of beer, or you can show him a BBQ Grill the size of a Chevy with wheels and tires and enough gleaming stainless steel to blind low-flying birds. That last one is what they used on me. Just below the picture of Grillasarus Rex was the following text.

Click here to see how our unique website can get you your dream BBQ Grill at up to 95% off retail price. No joke.

Wow. Ninety-five percent? That’s a lot, isn’t it? With my man gene fully stimulated, I clicked on the ad. I was directed to a website named Brightly colored pictures of vast warehouses of items, one of which just HAD to be Grillasarus Rex, were plastered across the page, and bold type proclaimed that they offered fantastic prices on brand new items because they bought from warehouse closeouts and overstocks. Furthermore, the text assured me, I could trust this because it’s been COVERED ON THE NEWS. (This, dear imaginary reader, is where my man gene was wrestled to the ground by my suspicion gene, tied up, and stuffed in to a burlap sack closed with duct tape.)

There was a prodigious array of logos from major news outlets across the top, and right dead center of it all was an embedded video showing some generic local newscast (I think I figured out it was from the Atlanta area) covering auctions. Only, it was covering auctions of police seizures and repossessions, and didn’t mention a single thing about closeouts or overstocks. The point was made during the report that the items were NOT new, they were just LIKE new, which again differed from the text.

(Here’s a note to all you would-be scammers. When you slap up a video that has nothing to do with what you’re advertising, it’s counterproductive. We will notice.)

So now, I scroll down further and see a panel of auctions that just closed (allegedly), showing me screen names that had bought a Honda Civic for $1700 and change, a Macbook Pro for $120 and change, etc., etc. Pretty impressive stuff, if it was true at all. Under that were some more auctions that were just about to close. For the same sort of items, at the same sort of price. Clearly the pressure was on. Bid, damn you, BID!

Luckily my man gene’s muffled screams could not be heard through the burlap sack. I scroll down a bit further and see two things of interest. I’ll tell you about the second one, first. At the very bottom of the screen was the now-standard disclaimer of all Internet scam websites that vouch for their products by saying the news media has covered them. We have no affiliation with the companies identified by the logos above. They did not publish anything about our specific service. However, the subject of penny auctions was featured.

So, let me get this straight. I can trust you because the news media has covered you, only…they haven’t? Charming. Right above this disclaimer from hell was a list of names and beside each one it said “Name Goes Here invested $159 and won auctions worth $SomeHugeAmount.” Aha! The scam shows itself in the light of day!

Here’s how these penny auction scams work. They get your credit card and tell you that you’re “buying bids.” Get that? You’re not bidding on items, you’re not buying items, you’re buying bids. Once you’ve bought some bids, the auction site will bid for you on items, bumping the price up a few pennies at a time. What they SAY will happen is, as soon as there is no available bid for a given item, the auction closes and the last person who entered a bid on that item, wins it. The problem is, you have no control over what item you’re bidding on, and you have no control over how long the auction goes on. It’s not time limited, as legitimate sites like eBay are, it continues to run until it runs out of bids.

You could win something you don’t care about at all (a number of people complaining about on scam alert websites said they “won” gift cards worth between $4 and $10), or you could pay the regular retail price for an item if the bids continued to come in. It’s all very vague.

The one thing that’s NOT vague is that YOUR credit card will be charged $159 for a supply of “bids.”

There are two lessons for us to learn here. First, always be skeptical. Look over the entire site first, and scroll down to the bottom where the disclaimers live. Any time an auction website wants money before you can bid, that’s a bad sign.

Second, just because the ads are repackaged into friendly little Facebook sidebar nuggets that look just like the official bits that come from Facebook itself means precisely nothing. Those ads are PACKED with scammers who want a piece of Facebook’s 500+ million users.

Make sure one of them isn’t you, okay?

Sunday, August 22

The stock market and math

Not long ago, I had a meeting with a financial advisor and he shared something very interesting with me. Yeah, I know… What’s that got to do with tech, computer boy? As I’ve already reminded the both of you who read this blog, The Gray Geek is about me. And sometimes, I think about stuff other than technology. Not often, I grant you, but sometimes.

Anyway, the stock market. (My financial advisor friend did use a computer to show me this, by the way, so there!) Let’s say you have a dollar, to make the math easy. You invest that dollar and in year one, your investment gains 100 percent. How much do you have now? Two dollars, right?

Now year two. In year two, the value of your investment declines 50 percent. Now how much do you have? You’re back to your original one dollar. So, what is the rate of return on your investment over the past two years?

Zero? No. In fact, it’s 25 percent. Which sounds like you ought to be holding at least $1.25, but you’re not. You don’t have jack.

And that’s why you need to know the stock market’s dirty little secret. A smaller loss wipes out a bigger gain in dollars, but not in percentage. So the percentages look great, but long term investors are losing money. There’s an Oppenheimer mutual fund that I’ve been putting money in to for a long time now, years and years. Sometimes it’s been way up and sometimes it’s been down a bit, and recently I looked at the fund comparing what it’s worth to what I’ve actually paid in.

I’ve lost money. If I close it today and withdraw every dollar it’s worth, I will have paid more money than I have.

And the economists wonder why the small investor is getting out of the market and turning to bonds? They marvel over the fact that small investors don’t want to jump back in and catch the market at a low point, to profit on the ride back up? Really?

Here, I’ll help them out. Mister Economist, please take note. We can’t always figure out all your damn formulas and how those tricky percentages work, but we can count our money.

Saturday, August 21

BlackBerry Media Sync errors on Windows 7

Okay, here's the scenario. You have a computer that originally used Windows Vista. You downloaded the BlackBerry Desktop Manager 5.0 to it, in order to update and backup your BlackBerry. As part of that whole process, BlackBerry Media Sync was installed to help copy music and pictures between the BlackBerry and your computer.

Now that computer has been updated to Windows 7, and you notice the BlackBerry Desktop Manager 5.0 is now the BlackBerry Desktop SOFTWARE (perhaps we no longer manage things?) 6.0. Being a well trained computer user, you decide to update. Part of that update is to update the BlackBerry Media Sync from version 2.0 to version 3.0.

And then the entire process comes to a screeching halt. You're presented with an error box that says an invalid operating system has been detected, that BlackBerry Media Sync supports only Windows XP SP2 (apparently, they didn't get the memo about Service Pack 3?) and Windows Vista. It warns you that the program will now exit, and it does.

The problem isn't the new BB Media Sync 3.0 software. It works fine on Windows 7. In fact, so does BB Media Sync 2.0, but not the version you have! Version 3.0, you see, detects version 2.0 during its installation and attempts to uninstall the old version. And that promptly fails, giving you the false impression that the software you're trying to INSTALL won't work on Windows 7, not the version that's being UNINSTALLED.

This red herring can lead you on a wild goose chase, and if you give me a moment I'll think of some other archaic metaphors... Anyway, the solution is to update BB Media Sync to the very latest revision of version 2.0. You can download that file by following this link:

BB Media Sync 2.0

Run that, and it will offer to update your copy of version 2.0. Allow it to do so, and you have a Windows 7 compatible edition. Now you need to reinstall BB Desktop Software 6.0, so it can properly update you to the BB Media Sync 3.0.

Here's hoping at least one person is saved the hair-pulling that I endured tracking this fix down! :)

Windows 7 and the padlock icon

Have you ever looked at one of your folders using Windows 7 and noticed a strange padlock next to it? Have you ever wondered what in the heck that thing is? The padlock probably has several meanings, someone will need to beat the details out of some poor Microsoftie to know for sure, but one thing that it CAN mean is that some of the files in that folder (or sub-folders inside of that folder) have specific security permissions on them that are not inherited from the folders they reside in. In general, that isn't a good idea. You want to own folders, and then by extension anything in those folders. The good news is, there is a fairly easy - if a bit obscure - way of fixing this. You can remove the lock overlay in this case by resetting the permissions to be inherited, and removing all permissions that are not inherited.

Right click the folder, click Properties.
Click the Security tab.
Click Advanced.
Click Change Permissions.
Check Both boxes to Include inheritable permissions, and to Replace all child object permissions.
Click Apply then click Yes.
Wait for the list to refresh.
Remove all permissions that say "not inherited".

That should remove the Lock overlay.

You may need to uncheck Use Sharing Wizard in Folder Options on the View tab to see the Security tab, and may have to boot to Safe Mode as well, if running Home Basic or Premium.