Saturday, November 12, 2011

US Airlines

Here's a scam that has been around a while that shows the value of fact checking. It could be a good lesson to use with middle school learners or older.

The scam starts when a letter arrives at your house. I would provide a copy for the students. Here's a link with a scanned copy of the letter I received, with some personal information blocked out. If you duplicate the letter, you may want to take out my information altogether and replace it with something more personal for the students.

There are three parts to the mailer: the cover of the envelope, the award notification instructions and a check issued for $1,400.

Before you do any searching online, ask the students to evaluate the credibility of the award letter. "Based on what you see here, is there a good enough reason for Carl to call the 800 number?"  A number of potential Red Flags can be spotted, including no return address, the check is made out to US Airlines and there's a deadline to respond.

Using the Baloney Detection Kit (BDK) questions, students could identify questions that would be good to ask in evaluating the truthfulness of the letter's claims.  For example, Number 4 pops out: "is this the way the world works (does the offer sound too good to be true)?" Well, sometimes there are contests with pretty good prizes and I may have entered something unawares, so that question alone isn't quite enough to convince me it's not a bonafide offer.

Number five, on the other hand, is a better question. I must not be the only person to get a letter like this. I wonder if someone has already looked into this. Maybe someone else called the 800 number, has written about it online and will save me the trouble.

This requires fact checking.

Even without looking for other opinions about the letter, there are significant clues to query. This is where students may have problems, since they don't seem to have a good grasp as to what makes a powerful fact checking query. See what keywords they suggest. The best keywords are US Airlines.  You could also select a phrase from the award notification and query that.

There is no company called US Airlines, however there are plenty of results for US airlines (not a proper noun), so students have to read the search results to tell the difference.

As part of the results, there are plenty of US Airlines scam results. Here's where you will find the answer to BDK #5. These are good to skim -- you will find scanned copies of other peoples' letters, along with descriptions of what happened when they called the 800 number. Unlike most of the letters cited, mine was machine addressed--not hand written--the signature on the check is a different name and the 800 number is different. But the form of the letter is 95% the same.

Students need to encounter real examples of incredible information that will eventually reach their front door. Best to be prepared with good questions and the ability to fact check.

1 comment:

Charline said...

I too received this "check", however I scan mail for bulk rate postage. If it is bulk rate then it is trash.