To paraphrase an old saying - "When the going gets tough, the con men come out of the woods." Don't get me wrong, I don't believe in much of the media doom and gloom regarding our economy. (I'll have to save all my thoughts on that for another blog.) But, should the down trends continue, I think it only inevitable that the trend toward scamming and conning will continue as well. The unfortunate truth is that swindlers and crooks have been around forever and they will be around from now till doomsday, but when people are at their most desperate is when they are at their most vulnerable as well and the tricksters love to prey on that.
Last week my boss asked me to go with him Tuesday (yesterday) as his guest to a seminar that he had signed up for. The topic - website development. Hmmm....right up my alley. He is looking for any way to make a buck these days (who isn't?) and he had attended a 90 minute session put on by these guys during which they sold him a software package and access to their website where they give you some tools to put together a website with merchant services, a shopping cart, etc. Sounded interesting. Supposedly, they were going to teach you at the all day seminar how to use that software he had purchased and tell you about how you could upgrade to more of their services. Uh-huh. What we walked into was a fast-talking, high energy sales pitch designed to convince you to part with $6000 of your hard earned cash that day. Before you walk in, they insist that you fill out a form telling them if you have access to a line of credit, credit cards, personal loans or other means of financing. My hackles went up on the spot. Why are they asking that question as a prerequisite of letting me in the door? They proceeded to tell me why - not long after I sat down, actually. Lo and behold, folks, they are making me an offer and it's a today only offer. If I didn't take them up on this offer right now, then I can never take them up on it again. I don't have any time to go and do my due diligence (as an intelligent business person should do) to research this company, talk it over with my spouse or find out if anyone has ever even heard of these people. No, I must buy their product today. And, wonder of wonders, if I don't have the cash, can't put it on a credit card and can't borrow it from my great-aunt Margaret, they have the perfect solution! I can finance through them today (I read later that their interest rate is around 18% - I don't know from personal experience.) My boss and I left at the first break they had around 12:00. About twenty minutes of surfing the internet last night convinced me that we made the right decision. The name of this company is Storesonline and their parent company (from the research I could find online) is iMergent. You can Google them if you care to. There are a few success stories floating around out there and a ton of unhappy customers with lawsuits. I found one article dating back to 2002 (http://www.thepittsburghchannel.com/team4/1419114/detail.html) claiming that attorneys general in seven states had opened investigations against these guys. Before they did business as Storesonline, they operated under the name Galaxy Mall. As I said, the shysters have been around for a long time (as evidenced by this shady company), but right now people are really feeling the need to "do something" and are, I think, more susceptible to this stuff. As my boss said yesterday about a very nice lady who sat next to me, "It's like they're just wanting to take her social security check right out of her hands."
I heard another story today about the latest in credit card scams. Apparently prescription medicines and cameras are the hot scammers commodity in recent days, according to a family member who was just scammed last week while trying to purchase a video camera from a disreputable online company. She was told by a customer service representative of her credit card company to be wary of the television ads promoting the first three months of your prescription free. By the time you figure out you aren't getting the medicines in the mail, they are long gone with your money. In my cousin's case, she found out the next day after ordering that she was being had and when her husband called to demand a refund or some proof that the camera was being shipped he was told that a shipping confirmation number would not be available for another 48 hours. The credit card company rep explained that this is because the credit card companies will not help you out after 72 hours, so the scam artists were trying to buy enough time to make a clean getaway.
Here are some tips when considering buying anything in person or online:
1. Know your seller - Is it a reputable company? Have you ever heard of them? Do you know people who have done good business with them before?
2. Don't be fooled by high pressure sales pitches - If you have to make a decision right now, it's probably a bad decision.
3. Do your research - If you don't know the company, a quick look online at the Better Business Bureau (http://www.bbb.org/) or often just a simple Google search will give you all the information you need.
4. When using your bank card, as often as possible, choose "credit" instead of "debit." - This will increase your level of protection in most instances (http://www.kiplinger.com/columns/fitness/archive/2001/ff20010808.htm) (If you are dealing with a small, local merchant that you know you can trust, you may want to stick with debiting your card as a courtesy because they are charged higher fees on credit transactions.)
5. Stay informed - Check out websites like Scambutsers.org (http://www.scambusters.org/) or Snoopes.com (http://snopes.com) to find out the facts about anything that sounds too good to be true.