Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Filtering Effects

"Special Offers!" in the mail are not special nor are they offers.  They are just advertising brochures.

Not a day goes by when I don't get some piece of mail saying I have been given a special offer.  Or I get a faked-up check that is actually a coupon for a discount on a home alarm system, roadside assistance, or whatever.  More disturbing are envelopes that say, "Important Information - Do Not Discard!" which of course, have no important information and should be discarded.

I get phone calls all the time - although lately I don't bother answering the phone unless it is a number I know.   A carpet-cleaning service in Maryland wants to clean the carpets in my home! (That would be a long drive for them!).   Suzie from "Card Services" has important information about my credit cards!  And yesterday, I get not one, but three calls from a "Manhatten" phone number saying that the IRS is going to take me to court and the Sheriff is on his way right now to arrest me!

And if you have e-mail, you get a regular retinue of pleas and messages from Nigerian Princes with special offers for "the sum of USD$1,000,000!" if you contact them right away.  Or "your bank" is going to "freeze your account" unless you respond to an e-mail with your account number and password.   And so on and so forth.

These are, of course, all scams, and to most people, obvious scams.  We wonder why they bother sending out these mailings, making these robo-calls, sending the SPAM e-mails.   If you are going to do this sort of thing, why not take a little time to make it more legitimate looking?   If you are going to send "special offers" in the mail, why make them look like such obvious carnival come-ons?   If you are going to robo-call, at least make your pitch plausible.   If you are going to e-mail SPAM, at least get your spelling and grammar correct and make it look legit, right?

Well, it turns out, there is a method to this madness.   Nigerian scammers perhaps stumbled upon it by accident.  The only people who respond to their poorly worded e-mails and obvious come-ons are people who are not very smart themselves and moreover, raging true-believers in the something-for-nothing mentality.   Skeptical folks don't respond, which is good for the scammer, as if they get a skeptical person, he is just wasting their time.  The skeptical guy will ask for more information and then tell the Nigerian scammer to piss off.   That's valuable hours wasted when you could be grooming a real schmuck for the con.

But this filtering effect doesn't just apply to Nigerian e-mail scams.   Take the loud full-page ad in the newspaper with the come-on prices and "sales" for cars.   Or the local dealer who mails me a "key to my new car!" - All I have to do is come down to the dealer and see if it fits.   Of course, it is a fake key, and they want me to enter a contest that the dealer's nephew "wins".   But if I am dumb enough to shop for a car this way, well, they know they can snooker me on the price.

Which is why just wandering into a car showroom is one of the worst ways to buy a car.   The salesman will presume you are unprepared, did no research, and are an impulse-buying schmuck.   You will not be offered a better price.   If you research online and then call around, get a price and make an appointment, then they know you already have an idea of what is a reasonable price, you've done the research, and indeed, they have quoted you a price already, so there is no finagling later on.

The same is true for mailings.   If you respond to a promotional mailing, the merchant already knows what kind of person you are - one convinced that offers, promotions, coupons, and "sales" are the way to get ahead in life.    So you get the runaround because they know you are a true-believer in the "deal" and they can actually get you to pay more and walk away convinced you paid less.

The telephone solicitor things works the same way.  If you respond to these pitches, they know you are a schmuck.   But they also know the minute you start asking intelligent questions, you are a waste of time and will hang up.   For example, the "IRS audit" people will hang up on you the moment you say anything that questions their veracity.   They are not going to stay on the line and try to convince you they are legit - there is little profit in it.  They hang up and move on to the next schmuck who will eagerly wire them money out of fear that they are going to jail.

These are very effective filters to use.   In a nation of 330 million people, you want to sieve out the gold nuggets - the total buffoons who have no idea of how to handle money, who live in fear half the time and are greedy the other half.   Once you have narrowed down the field, the pickins' as they say, are easy.

In the sales business, they used to call these "leads" and I mention this before.   Leads are people who respond to surveys or phone calls or advertisements.  These are folks who are inclined to bite on your sales pitch when you make it.   Why bother making cold calls or pitching to people who are skeptical?

This is not to say that salesmanship is inherently crooked.  Without salesmen, perhaps half the goods sold in America would remain unsold.  But salemanship seems to have changed over the years.  The come-on and the scheme seem to predominate in today's market, and no one seems to be interested in just making a regular sale to a customer willing and able to consummate a transaction.

Who is to blame for this?   "Evil Corporate America?"  Maybe.  Evil salesmen and retailers?   Maybe too.   But maybe the bulk of the blame rests on the American consumer, who continually bites on shitty deals and tells you that shit tastes good.   Because if a large enough segment of the market buys overpriced crap, then the market becomes dominated by overpriced crap.

The next time you get an annoying robo-call, or a piece of SPAM e-mail, or some junk mail flyer, bear in mind that you have your fellow citizens to thank for the proliferation of thus stuff.   So long as some lunkhead falls for this stuff, it will continue to go on.