Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Are People That Fucking Stupid? Yes We Are!



Why do we fall for the most obvious sorts of scams?  Because we are all idiots.


I am waiting for a prescription at Wal-Mart when the phone rings.  It is "Becky from Card Services" or "Survey for Free Cruise!" or whatever.  I hang up, pissed off that a junk call just cost me 10 cents on my GoPhone plan.

Yes, these calls are illegal under the DNC registry.  Good luck tracking down these folks and prosecuting them though, they are criminals and will just re-incorporate in another off-shore shell company and then use yet another tossable phone number and auto-dialer and be back in business in ten minutes.

And that right there tells you why you should never do business with "Becky" no matter what she is selling.   And the problem isn't the crooks who run these scams, but the people to bite on them.   You see, the reason why Becky keeps auto-dialing me is that there are some people out there dumb enough to think you can get something-for-nothing and as a result, Becky makes a lot of money and keeps calling.

If people stopped biting on Becky's sales pitches, these con artists would fold their tents and go out of business.   But people keep biting.   Our consumer culture is based on the lowest common denominator - the best deal you will get is often the shittiest deal some idiot would accept.

And you see this all the time.   Years ago, I was thinking of buying a used Mercedes and perhaps even leasing it (writing it off as a business expense) and then buying the residual for my personal use.   But when I went to the dealer and looked at the paperwork, I realized that what they wanted for a three-year-old off-lease car wasn't much less than a brand new one.

I pointed this out to the salesman and he basically said, "Hey, I don't have to deal with you, some other idiot will come in here and pay full price with no questions asked!" and like clockwork a Chinese couple came in and took the car as I was standing there.  It was the 1990's and everyone thought they had lots of money to spend.  Nobody offered "deals" for the simple reason that they didn't have to.  Some other idiot would bite on a shitty deal if I didn't.

If you want to get the latest smart phone, the hot new car, the latest fashions, or the coveted concert tickets, well you have to accept the deal that the most moronic person in our society thought was fair.   Because they aren't going to offer you a discount when there is an endless supply of morons who will overpay.

So raw deals abound.  Outright scams abound.  And they will always outnumber good bargains because people are idiots - blithering idiots - even people with so-called "educations."   Consider these folks, who fell for outright cons, yet have graduate degrees no less:
1.  An attorney friend of mine who fell for the "tax denier" scheme - and spent more money attending seminars, buying books and CDs than he would have just paying his taxes.  He ended up having his wages garnished and a lien put on his house.   This is not some "dumb" poor person from the ghetto, but a middle-class white guy with an Engineering degree and a law degree.   He wanted to believe easy answers, so he suspended disbelief.

2.  A young professional couple working for a "three letter agency" (hush-hush!) in the DC area, both with Master's degrees, who went to a timeshare seminar and bought a timeshare.   They profess to love it, although with work and family that haven't been there in two years.  Of course, they say they love their timeshare because they have to.   The Timeshare is the tar-baby of Real Estate - once you buy it, you can't get rid of it.  It sticks to you like glue.

3.  Chelsea Clinton's Father-in-Law, a respected investment banker, ended up falling for a Nigerian scam and stole millions from his clients to pay for it.  He ended up in jail.   A guy who should know about money falling for such and obvious con - why?
This sort of thing makes me scratch my head and wonder why.  But the more I think about it, the answer becomes clear.   It is not that we are all stupid per se, but that we are prone to thinking emotionally and also are willing to suspend disbelief when someone tells us what we want to hear.

The con-artist is a fascinating example of how human emotion and psychology can be manipulated to persuade people to do things that are really against their own self-interest.  With just a few well-chosen words, body language, and other means of manipulation, you can persuade people into doing just about anything - even smart people.   Especially smart people.

So what are these cons that these robo-callers are trying to sell you?   The "survey cruise" scheme is an attempt to get you to believe you've won a free cruise on Royal Caribbean cruise lines.  But what they are really doing is selling you a cruise on a second-rate older cruise ship with a confusingly similar name.  The cruise is "free" but with the "taxes, port fees, and gratuities" you end up spending as much as on a basic cruise.

But the worst part is, for three hours before the cruise leaves, you have to sit through a timeshare sales presentation.  Then once you get on the boat (where you can't escape) you have to sit through another timeshare sales presentation.    If you buy, you are really screwed.  If you don't buy, well, you've paid too much to go on a second-class cruise.

Another scheme is refinancing.  "Becky from Card Services" wants to talk to you about your credit card!   It sounds like you are in trouble with your card company, but what they want to do is refinance your credit or supposedly offer you a lower rate - all for a fee, of course.  It is a rip-off.

In fact, anything sold to you over the phone or via robo-call is a rip-off.  It is pretty self-evident, if you think about it.  The robo-caller like the SPAM e-mailer is counting on an infinitesimal response rate, but a finite rate nevertheless.  If one in a million people say "yes" to your shitty offer, you need only send out a few million e-mails to get a few grade-A prime chumps on the line.   The dumbest among us are thus responsible for these robocalls and SPAM.   We could go after the spammers, I suppose, or maybe just bump off the dumbest 1%.   The net result would be the same.

But that is why this shit will never end.   People are giving up their landlines today because no one calls other than scammers.   It just isn't worth spending $30 a month or even $30 a year to keep a phone line open for fraudsters.    And on cell phones, most people - if they answer calls at all anymore - screen them out and refuse to pick up for an unidentified phone number.   Because a few stupid people responded to scammers, and because we can't go (choose not to go) after these scammers using technology, we've basically abandoned voice communication in America.

But wait, it gets worse.   We have SPAM filters and all of that, but you still get scams on e-mail.  Easier to deal with, to be sure - just click on "delete" or "SPAM" and they go away - for a while.   But they don't go away.  They come back, again and again, and we have to start this dance over and over again.

Of course, a lot of people don't even e-mail anymore so they use Facebook or Twitter, or Snapchat, or they Text on their phones.  Guess what?  SPAM, SPAM, and more SPAM - just like a Monty Python bit.

Sadly, it will never end.  It never will.  So long as people are stupid, there will be con artists and scammers.   In the year 2250, when we all communicate through brain implants, you will hear a voice in your head say, "Congratulations!  You've won the Microsoft Lottery!"

Shit never ends, does it?

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