Looking for a legal/technical term, I think...
January 18, 2012 4:41 PM   Subscribe

Brain block: what's the term (if any) for creating a problem, then selling someone the solution to that problem? I swear there's a name for this kind of fraud/scheme but it just won't come to me.

For example, malware popups that say you might have a virus. So you click on it and it actually does install a virus. Then the company offers to sell you a virus remover to get rid of the virus they installed.

I've gotten stuck on entrapment which I know is not the correct term. But my stupid brain just won't let me think around it. And I plug descriptions into Google but the top results aren't offering me a term for it.

Maybe the word in English doesn't exist and I'm imaging things?
posted by sbutler to Law & Government (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I always thought that was the Vacuum Salesman con.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:46 PM on January 18, 2012

Charleton? A flamboyant deceiver - someone who attracts customers with tricks or jokes.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:53 PM on January 18, 2012

I'm trying to clarify what you're asking. It sounds like you want to know what you call it when advertisers invent something, such as body odor or feminine "freshness" and then market it as a problem. (These are two classic examples.) I'm not sure there is a specific term for this.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 4:57 PM on January 18, 2012

Response by poster: I'm not really talking about a marketing change of perspective. I think along the lines of what you're saying, Chaussette, is the marketing of bottled water. They've created this idea in our heads that there's a problem with tap water or that it's not as good for us, then they sell us tap water with pretty labels to solve the "problem". But there's really nothing ever wrong with tap water.

What I'm thinking is more: take your car into a mechanic. While he's under the hood he damages your belt. Then he brings you over and says "Wow, look at how frayed that is. You need a new belt" and proceeds to charge you for replacing a part that was never broken till he broke it. So everything was fine, some 3rd party comes along and breaks something then offers to fix what they just broke.
posted by sbutler at 5:11 PM on January 18, 2012

Best answer: That sounds like a form of extortion, like the "protection racket".
posted by cardioid at 5:19 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It feels like there really should be a term for this. It's a common feature of some (though not all) "gypsy" home repair scams yet it doesn't appear to be on Wikipedia's list of confidence tricks. The closest thing on the list is the "street mechanic scam" but I think the given description is a bit too narrow.

I would note that the inverse of this scam (imho) is "salting the mine", planting something valuable in something worthless.

I always thought that was the Vacuum Salesman con

This is close, but I think the main difference is that the vacuum salesman is causing the damage right in front of the mark whereas in these other cases, the mark is unaware that the con-man is responsible for the damage.

That sounds like a form of extortion, like the "protection racket"

I'm not sure this is quite on the nose since this scam doesn't essentially depend on force/coercion but rather deception.
posted by mhum at 5:48 PM on January 18, 2012

Setting up a straw man, and knocking it down.
posted by LonnieK at 6:40 PM on January 18, 2012

Best answer: David Icke and the conspiracy crowd often refer to this as Problem-Reaction-Solution or PRS for short. It's not unlike a "false flag" operation.
posted by Edogy at 6:50 PM on January 18, 2012

Best answer: In conspiracy circles, they call it Problem-Reaction-Solution.
posted by gentian at 6:51 PM on January 18, 2012

Customer-Creating Vandalism, a play on Customer-Creating Value.
posted by michaelh at 7:06 PM on January 18, 2012

It's similar to what is meant by the phrase "a solution in search of a problem".
posted by lollusc at 7:29 PM on January 18, 2012

posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:15 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seems like 'planned obsolescence' would come close in a Venn diagram to what you're talking about, but I know that doesn't nail it.
posted by trip and a half at 11:16 PM on January 18, 2012

Best answer: I don't think there's a separate term, or if there is, I haven't found it. Extortion or protection racket are applicable, but the auto mechanic example is generally described as just fraud or scam -- such as this one about cutting the axle boots.

Your top example is something more like rogue security software or scareware.

There may not need to be a separate name -- in many, many cases it's actually easier to fake the damage, e.g. by showing the customer an old, worn part saying it came from their car. Similarly, most anti-virus scams rely on an easily double-checked claim of infection.

As for marketing, the classic example is halitosis (a term which Listerine popularized, although they did not, as lore usually states, invent).
posted by dhartung at 1:22 AM on January 19, 2012

I can't find any source or support for this, but I have thought of this as "the glazier's scam"—a glazier goes around breaking windows so that he can sell the service of repairing them.

It's not a protection racket, because with that, the damage comes after you fail to pay, not before you're approached. And it's not a solution in search of a problem, as that term is generally used.
posted by adamrice at 8:40 AM on January 19, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks guys. I think my brain was grasping for extortion although that term doesn't fit. There must be a nice, long, unpronounceable German word for this :)
posted by sbutler at 7:22 PM on January 21, 2012

Yeah, your example with the mechanic is really more of a simple scam. True extortion would be more like "I have your car now, and I can do all sorts of nasty stuff to it. You should pay up so you can get it back in good condition." There might be some line-blurring there if you fear the mechanic might do this any time you bring your car in.

Really, flat-out extortion would be much easier for the mechanic if it worked without any problems. That way you'd just pay extra money without any work having to be done. The scam is that they're creating more work for themselves so they get more money. You should go to a lazier mechanic.
posted by cardioid at 5:20 PM on January 22, 2012

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