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Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals

ISBN: 978-1-118-10800-0
209 pages
December 2011
Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals (1118108000) cover image
A leading consumer advocate reveals how to protect your money, time, and integrity from corrupt businesses

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.

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Prologue: Fenced In xi

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

Corporatespeak 120

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

Appendix 179

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

Bibliography 191

Suggested Readings 205

Acknowledgments 207

About the Author 209

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Christopher Elliott is one of the nation's foremost consumer advocates. In his nearly two decades of fighting for consumers, he's proven himself as a fearless, fair, and effective mediator, going toe-to-toe with large corporations, litigious business owners, and government agencies.
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November 17, 2011
6 Worst Holiday Cons and How to Avoid Them

"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.

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