Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals
Once upon a time store prices were simple and fair, businesses stood behind their products with guarantees free of fine print and loopholes, and companies genuinely seemed to care about their valued customers—but those days are long gone. In this groundbreaking exposé, consumer advocate Christopher Elliot reveals the broken relationship between American consumers and businesses and explains how companies came to believe that fooling their customers was a viable, and profitable, business plan.
Scammed explores how companies control information to mislead, distort the truth, and even outright lie to their consumers.
- Exposes the various ways companies have led their war against information—from seductive ads, disingenuous fine print, and unconventional promotions that involve seeding discussion forums and blogs with company-friendly comments
- Offers consumers insider knowledge of the system, reasonable expectations, and a clear understanding of the games businesses play
- Christopher Elliott is one of the nation's foremost consumer advocates
Protect yourself, your time, and your money from the predators of the consumer world. Armed with knowledge, readers will become far more discerning and every business's worst nightmare.
Scammed—or Just a Bad Deal? xiv
Down That Road Lies Madness xvii
Introduction: You’re Not a Victim xxi
Confessions of a Heretic xxii
Preventive Medicine xxiv
How Businesses Are Scamming Us xxv
How We Are Letting Them xxvi
What to Do about It xxvii
The New Scams xxviii
Part 1 How They Scam Us 1
1. Reputation Management 3
Avoiding Sock Puppets 6
How Companies Manipulate Customers 8
How We Fall for It 10
"SocialSpark Loves Your Blog" 12
Don't Fall for a Managed Reputation 13
2. I SEO You 17
A Scam That Wears Many Hats 19
The SEO Pitch 20
SEO Gone Wild 22
Above the Law? 25
3. Fooled You 27
But Everyone's Doing It 29
Little White Lies 33
Who's to Say What’s Bogus? 36
4. That's Not an Ad 39
How They Lie 42
Pay per Post 46
But Wait! There's More! 47
5. Lying about Your Rights 51
Oops, You've Already Signed It 54
Fine Print Gone Wild 56
Signing Away Other Rights 57
One Word at a Time 57
Part 2 How We Scam Ourselves 59
6. Our Own Damned Fault 61
Losing Your Mind 63
A Scam-or-Be-Scammed World? 65
There's Something in the VitaminWater 66
A Wayward Offer from DirecTV 67
That's Not the Spirit 68
Customer Confessions 70
7. Walled Gardens 73
If the Customer Is Always Right, Why Worry? 79
Trapped in the System of It All 79
Do You Suffer from Walled Garden Syndrome? 81
8. The Price of Loyalty 83
What Loyalty Programs Make Us Do 85
What Makes Loyalty Programs Dangerous 87
The Loyalty Effect 91
You're Complicit 92
Questions to Ask before You Buy 93
9. When the Watchdogs Sleep 95
Where Have the Watchdogs Gone? 98
When Dogs Follow the Wrong Scent . . . 100
Being a Discerning—and Demanding—Consumer 102
10. Tired, Confused, and Apathetic 105
Eyes Wide Shut 108
Decisions, Decisions 110
When You Don't Make a Decision . . . 111
Dereliction of Duty 112
Splitting the Difference 114
Part 3 How to Fix It 115
11. The Enlightened Consumer 117
A Thirst for Knowledge 118
Getting Inside the Mind of a Business 119
Getting Inside Your Head 124
What Smart Shoppers Don't Do 126
12. It's Dangerous Out There 129
How to Spot a Lowercase Scam 131
How to Spot an Uppercase Scam 135
How to Deflect a Clever Sales Pitch 137
Surviving a Scam 139
13. The I-Can't-Help-Desk 141
How to Escape from Call Center Hell 143
Should You Chat? 147
The Art of the Written Complaint 149
These Letters Go Straight to the Trash 150
Elements of a Winning Style 151
14. Turning a No into a Yes 155
You're Right 156
How to Turn a No Around 157
A Few Thoughts on the Art of Persuasion 161
Sue or Shame? 163
15. Act Now 167
Timing Is Everything 169
Fixing What's Wrong with Business 171
Fixing Ourselves 172
Who Wins? 174
Epilogue: Power in Your Pocket 175
Who You Gonna Call? 179
How to Find a Manager in Person 180
How to Find a Manager by E-Mail 183
How to Find a Manager by Phone 184
How to Find a Manager through Social Media 186
Suggested Readings 205
About the Author 209
"It's open season on shoppers," says Elliott, a consumer advocate and syndicated columnist. "Cons are waiting around every corner, especially in this soft economy. There's a scam out there with your name on it.” In his upcoming book "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals," Christopher Elliott identifies two distinct kinds of scams:
1. "Lowercase" scams - obvious rip-offs, like giving money to a nonexistent charity.
2. "Uppercase" scams - perpetuated by real companies with a product.
They attempt to defraud by doing things like mislabeling a product as being "on sale" when, in fact, it's been marked up. Holiday shoppers are in greater danger of falling prey to a scam than at any other time in recent memory, says Elliott. But you don't have to become a victim. Just in time for the busy shopping season, he reveals the top six Christmas cons, plus tips on how to avoid them.
The three WORST lowercase Scams to look out for:
* Bogus Bell Ringers - While a vast majority of charities are legitimate, it may be worth making sure that bell ringer at the grocery store is on the up-and-up. Is he with the Salvation Army, which sponsors the Red Kettle Christmas Campaign? Just because some guy is dressed in a Santa suit doesn't make him real.
How to avoid it: Always give to a legit charity, and if you have doubts, don’t do it.
*The Gas Can Scam- This is a favorite confidence scam during the holidays because it's relatively easy to pull off in the parking lot of a busy mall. A scammer approaches you with a gas can and a tall tale about having run out of fuel. He's desperate to get home to his family. Could you "lend" him just a few dollars?
How to avoid it: Call mall security, which can help a real motorist in need – and send a scammer packing.
*Holiday Dot-Cons - Christmas is a time for online rip-offs.The level of fraud encountered by U.S. online retailers is estimated to be hundreds of millions of dollars each season. How to avoid these holiday horrors? Buy from someone you know and trust, and always, always pay with a credit card.
How to avoid it: Buy from someone you know and trust, and always, always pay with a credit card.
The three WORST Uppercase Scams to look out for:
*The Gift Card - Americans give $90 billion worth of gift cards every year, most of it during the holidays. But up to 7 percent of the cards go unredeemed. That's more than $6 billion of your money that companies know they will be able to keep. Might as well throw the cash on the old Yule Log. Gift cards are a legitimate scam that has probably cost hundreds of dollars for consumers.
How to avoid it: Buy real presents.
*The Fake Liquidation Sale - At a time when the economy is sluggish, and several businesses in the neighborhood may be liquidating - or saying they're liquidating -- be on the lookout. When a big business goes under, the final sale is handled by a liquidator whose job it is to get the most from the remaining merchandise. Prices can be significantly higher than if the store were in business. And yet marking up items and calling it a sale is perfectly legitimate.
How to avoid it: Be skeptical of anyone going “out of business” and do the math before you buy.
*The Christmas Toy Craze- Remember Cabbage Patch Kids? How about Tickle Me Elmo? All of them are perfectly legal and may be a one-way ticket to scam-ville. In the 21st century, holiday fad toys "sell out" quickly and are only available at a steep markup from select stores or online. While totally legal, they are grossly overpriced and often lead to buyer's remorse.
How to avoid it: Difficult if you have kids who really want one, but worth a try.