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Friday, October 9, 2009

"Of course it's not a scam. Oprah endorses it."

“Of course it’s not a scam. Oprah endorses it.”

On October 7, 2009, the company that I work for notified me that a client, a seventy-year old woman, had canceled her health protection. I knew her personally and was surprised as to why she had done so, considering that she received a $1400 claim the year before for fracturing two fingers. I visited her to discuss the matter, since she’s covered until she’s 85 years old without any limitations. She told me 85 isn’t long enough for her and that she took out another insurance that will cover her for life. When she showed me the contract, I noticed three things. The first thing was that in order for her to be compensated, she would have to be incapable of performing her duties at her place of employment for at least 90 (she’s retired); hospital fees are covered under the condition that they are for accidents only (in Quebec, seniors over 65 don’t have any hospital fees to pay); and disability benefits are paid only to individuals under 60 years of age (she’s 70). Although I showed her these clauses on the new policy and compared it with the plan that she had canceled—which covered her for everything her new plan did not, she refused to accept that she had been swindled. This experience clearly illustrates when it comes to someone wanting something bad enough, they’ll always check their intelligence at the door.

Several months ago, one could not check their email or their favorite website without being bombarded by weight loss plans or the like. The latest fad is the acai berry supplement and colon cleansing products. A few hours before I wrote this essay, I was on a website and saw what appeared to be a news channel’s ad banner. After clicking the banner, I was brought to a news reporter’s website where she described her skepticism of acai berry supplements. To make a long story short, the reporter wrote that she lost enough weight that she was able to fit into two smaller dress sizes after only four weeks. What was more interesting at the bottom of the page was the fine print that declared that the mentioned company is not affiliated with ABC, CNN, NBC, CBS, etc. Furthermore, after I closed the page I was brought to the website of the company that sold these supplements. Although this was an obvious scam, these scammers are obviously selling enough of their crap to enough dumb people in order to pay for these phony ads. As mentioned earlier, when people want something badly enough, they will check their intelligence at the door.

This naivety is also found among a more unlikely group—first-time authors. As ironic as it may sound, first-time authors often fall victim to unscrupulous agents and vanity publishers who will always charge for their services. This author will admit to almost being a victim. Often in this case, the first-time author would have been rejected dozens of times by agents and traditional publishers. One could imagine the excitement they would feel after receiving a letter of acceptance from an agency or publisher they had queried. Unfortunately most sign the contracts failing to realize that they’ve been scammed. They will find themselves paying large amounts of money to see their work published only to wind up with a garage full of books that bookstores don’t want. Although there are numerous sources where writers could inform themselves on the legitimacy of agencies and, most don’t even bother to research the ones that they choose to do business with. After all, since they wanted something badly enough, their intelligence was also checked at the door.

Scams of all sorts have always been around and are not likely to disappear anytime soon. Regardless of how many laws that are enacted to protect consumers, this form of non-ethical and criminal conduct will still persist one way or another. What’s annoying is that most victims could have protected themselves from falling prey had they not been so lazy to use the multitude of information sources that are available and that are free. As harsh as it may sound, people that ignorantly fall for these scams do not deserve much sympathy for their losses. As for the scammers that run off with their money, one could argue that they get away with it because they themselves wanted something badly. The only difference is that they get what they want because they never check their intelligence at the door.

Russell Brooks is the author of the upcoming action/thriller, Pandora's Succession.

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