Scams, Your Momma, and Cheap Speakers

“You were right about that computer scam.  That was a bad idea.  I’m going to take the blame for it, I decided.” – Office Space


I’d like to report this sign for false advertising.  The town was not made of Cuervo® nor did they make Cuervo™ there.

Back a few decades ago . . . .

I was in a college classroom, after class.  A bunch of us were sitting around talking and Joe jumped in.

“So, guys, the most incredible thing happened to me,” said Joe.  “I was at a Burger King® and I had just finished eating.  I was walking back out to my car, and this guy in a van stopped me.”

I think I jumped in with something to the effect that very few good things happen when a guy from a van approaches you in a Burger King™ parking lot.

Joe ignored me and continued, “He had these speakers in the back of his van.  He had dropped them off at a rental, and he had mistakenly signed two extra out.  If he took them back to the shop, they would have fired him for checking the extras out.  These are $1000 speakers! Each!

“I got them for $300 for the pair!  They sound totally awesome with my stereo!  I had to run to the bank to get the cash, but I got them!”

I smiled.

I had just read in the local newspaper that there was a scammer group operating around the metropolitan area of Moderatelylargecity, East Westeria near where we lived.  They were selling speakers worth about $50 a pair out of the back of trucks at fast food restaurants.  Cash only.

I thought to myself – “Hey, Joe likes the speakers.  He really likes them.  And if you tell him it was all a scam, he’ll hate the speakers and feel stupid.  Is it hurting anyone to let him think he got a deal?”

Joe was a nice guy, and I successfully held back my inner jerk (on that far distant morning).  I’m betting Joe has no idea to this day.   Maybe I should call him and tell him?

And of the bunch of us talking, Joe was by far the nicest guy.  Probably the most moral.  If you read this blog you KNOW it’s not me.  (Yes, I know John Wilder’s halo is firmly askew – but it’s in a roguish Captain Mal Reynolds way.)

The world is full of scammers.  Many of the scams are legal, just like the one your mom pulled on your dad.

And how do I know so much?  Yeah.  I got scammed.  More than once.  The first big scam occurred when I signed a contract when I was pretty young (20??) that wasn’t a good one (for me) but it only cost me $1000.  For a membership in a buying club.  To buy things at factory cost.  When I had no money to buy things at factory cost.

Thankfully, it was financed with monthly payments of like $50, which was a lot back then.  But looking in the rear view mirror?  That $1000 was cheap, and the payments made it better.  I got to feel stupid not one time, but EVERY SINGLE MONTH when I wrote out that check.  Now?  I try to look through my lens of past stupidity to evaluate every single deal.

Recently I responded to an email from a “group” that appeared to be tied to a professional association that I am a part of.  Mistake.  Set up an appointment and it turned out I could join this “group” for only $200 per month.  This would be awesome!  This would help me advance some professional goals that I was interested in.  Well, $200 per month plus a $250 startup fee.  I was discussing the opportunity with them on the phone:

Me:  “Well, how often does this actually work?”  (I was expecting 95% or something.)

Jim Q. Salesdude:  “You can understand that we don’t keep statistics on our success rate.  But most members are active for more than a year . . . .”

And I’m sure he’s telling the truth.

The average person that would be wanting this kind of opportunity could afford $200 a month.  And the process would likely take months.  So, yeah, I’m sure he’s telling the truth, because he has people who can afford it buying . . . hope.  I looked up the company online, and saw very few positive reviews – most indicated it provided them no help whatsoever.  Heck, I can just go the bank and get $200 in ones and at least be able to make a fire out of it.  Why should I give them $2650?

But what are the signs of a scam?

  1. Hard sell/won’t leave you alone. – This is often the number one sign. The salesman has money on the line – you money.  If you sign up?  They get money, and it’s likely that they’re morally flexible in the first place.  With this opportunity listed above, the salesguy is getting sort of clingy.  He’s very insistent – like a psycho ex-girlfriend level insistent.  As long as he doesn’t come to my house in the middle of the night and shave my dog completely bald and then take a magic marker to him, I think I’m okay – nobody wants that to happen to them twice.  He called me today even after I told him I wasn’t interested.  Even sent me an email to reschedule on my calendar after I ditched his call.  When in full hard sell mode, they make high school sophomore girls who just got dumped in public look stable.
  2. Implication that this is special, or maybe kinda illegal. – In my case, this was supposed to be a backdoor link for “special access.” I was approved after describing my experience in a single sentence, and then told how special I was.  Alarm bells!  This is also an incentive for you to be quiet after the scam is over – not everyone gets special access!  I’ll give you a heads up:  there is no Secret Nigerian Prince and no one has picked you to get a special offer because of what you’ve done.  You’re not that special.  And your kindergarten teacher doesn’t even remember your name.  Mine does.  But that’s because of the knives.
  3. Payment for things that aren’t usual. – Back (farther) in the past The Mrs. and I attempted to get an agent for a book we’d written. We found one who loved us and loved our book!  This agent also wanted to . . . charge us.  We believed in our book.  A bit too much.  Thankfully, we were only out several hundred dollars on that one.  There’s no way you should pay an agent, and no way that you should pay people for “super special professional opportunities.”
  4. Too good to be true (threats and promises). – One salesmen talked about how people who bought “Brand X” (his competitor) often got fired. I liked the guy, but made sure that I’d never buy that particular product.  I respond poorly to threats.  I respond much better to treats, which is nearly spelled the same way.  Treats are better:  Like sausage.    Wine.  Beer.  Some mixture of wine, bacon, sausage and beer.  In a smoothie?
  5. Quick response required. – If you don’t act today, you can’t get this deal! If someone tells me that?  I walk.  No deal is that good.  Have to act tonight?  Hmmm, I’ll pass.  If it’s a good deal where both parties will benefit, it will be available tomorrow, like your mom.

Nigerians and internet scammers look for stupid people.  Why?  You can keep them going forever.  That’s why the emails from the “Nigerian Prince” have spelling and factual errors.  If the person reading the email has enough brain cells momentarily clear the fog and do a Google® search for “Nigerian Prince” – well, that’s way too bright for the scammer.  They want them stupid (certainly) and rich (would be nice).  Since most things in the third world can be bought for about six dollars and handfuls of the wrapping paper the locals call money (sometimes including the local parliament) – you are rich if you live in America.  Even if you make minimum wage.

Scammers sell empty hope, which makes them equivalent with your state’s lottery board.  Last night I dreamed I was talking with my brother.  And mentioning how Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin) and I were friends.  Heck, I even had Steve’s phone number in my phone.

And I woke up, and was briefly sad that I really wasn’t friends with Steve Martin.  See how sad that was?  I bet you’re crying and sobbing that I was so disappointed.  That’s what selling empty hope is.  That and assuming that your parents really loved you.

I’ll leave you with this:  You can’t scam an honest man.  If you stick to honest reward for honest work and honest value?  You’ll never be CEO.

But you’ll never be scammed, either, if you also remember never to trust a five year old or a dude selling speakers out of the back of a van at Burger King®.

Author: John

Nobel-Prize Winning, MacArthur Genius Grant Near Recipient writing to you regularly about Fitness, Wealth, and Wisdom - How to be happy and how to be healthy. Oh, and rich.