Card Cheat

Four IT Swindles and How to Detect Them

Card CheatCon men have their confidence tricks, some IT vendors have their sales tricks. There is actually a surprising similarity between the two.  Read on and learn how to stop from being a mark in an IT swindle.

1. Bait and Switch is a classic swindle where the artist baits marks by advertising products at a very low price. When a mark arrives to purchase the product, the artist first cultivates an attachment to a more expensive product.  Only then does the artist inform the mark that the advertised product is sold out or otherwise unavailable. The artist then goes on to convince the marks to buy the more expensive product (the “switch”).

The IT Version: There several ways this might play out in our industry, but here’s one example. The IT manager goes through the usual product selection process requesting quotes from the various vendor until finally identifying the few for the proof of concept (POC). The unscrupulous vendor is invited, the POC goes very well, the price is right, so the unsuspecting IT manager justifies the product to management and places the order.

Unbeknown to the IT manager, though, the tested product was more powerful and more expensive version than the one quoted. The vendor has cultivated an attachment to the more expensive product (“the bait” ) and now tries to up-sell it to the buyer (“the switch”) saying that the original product is sold out or currently unavailable. The IT manager, now pressured by internal politics, deadlines etc. is forced to purchase the more expensive product.

How to Protect Yourself:  Product names and especially part numbers on invoices are easily confused. Be sure to check and double-check that the requested products are the same as the ones tested in the POC.

2. Lemon Laundering is a well-known car scam where dealers sell defective cars as new ones to unsuspecting customers.

The IT Version: Manufacturers sell refurbished or out-of-date equipment as new equipment without informing the customer. Lemon laundering is particularly problematic with proprietary appliances, which often require service and software maintenance contracts. Older appliances may lose their warranty before the company realizes its return on investment (ROI).

How to Protect Yourself:  Check the quoted (and tested) equipment against the vendor’s end-of-life announcements. This merely tells you if the product model is still supported. It does not indicate if your equipment is refurbished or not. Vendors may use different symbols in their product numbers to distinguish between refurbished and non-refurbished equipment, but there are no fixed rules. Note: refurbished equipment per se may not be a problem and in fact could be a very good deal, but vendors should always be upfront about what is being sold.

3. Salting is a practice that evolved during the Gold Rush where the artist would convince the mark to purchase a new mine or piece of real estate. Scammers would load shotguns with gold dust and shoot into the sides of the mine to give the appearance of a rich ore, thus “salting the mine”. They may even visit the mine and find some gold.

The IT Version: This is very common in any IT industry where performance is golden (pardon the pun). Companies “salt” the market by trumping out performance tests from “independent consultants” or themselves, making their product’s performance appear better than possible.

How to Protect Yourself: The best way is to run your own POC and see how vendors handle “your” workloads. Where that is not possible, scrutinize the conditions and description of the test data used in the performance test. Articles and professional forum posts may help, but often experiences with IT equipment can vary significantly between customers.

4. Pig-in-a-poke originated in the late Middle Ages, according to Wikipedia, involving the sale of a (suckling) “pig” in a “poke” (bag). The bag ostensibly contains a live healthy little pig, but actually contains a cat, not a very tasty source of meat. If one buys the bag unopened, the person has bought something of less value than was assumed.

The IT Version: This is very common in our industry. Manufacturers sell what purports to be data center-ready WAN optimization solution. The unsuspecting buyer impressed by the POC results, decides to purchase the product. What the buyer does not realize though is that supposedly fantastic performance can only be achieved in unrealistic conditions, such as disabling key features or on coast-to-coast networks with no loss and, gasp, no latency! Similarly, some WAN optimization vendors neglect to indicate that their “superior” performance can only be obtained when optimizing a few hundred simultaneous sessions when even an average user’s client today may generate over 40 simultaneous sessions.

How to Protect Yourself: Mimic real life conditions during the testing and, if possible, run the test over the production network. Also, be sure to test the equipment under load, both with all features disabled and enabled, to see the full range of performance.

So there you have it: an insider’s guide to the swindles and confidence tricks in our industry. Do you have your own tale to tell? I’d love to hear it. Just add it in the comments below.

Image credit: stevendepolo (flickr) – CC-BY-2.0