December 10, 1999 (Ira Pilgrim)

Get Your !#$%! Hand Out of My Pocket!

Sometimes one pays most for the things one gets for nothing.

Albert Einstein(1879-1955)

I buy things. Some things, like food, I have to buy. Other things, such as clothes, shoes, tools, lumber etc. are also things that I buy. It is much more convenient, and often cheaper, to buy things, such as tools, computers and computer supplies, by mail order. As a consequence, my name, and my wife's name ends up on mailing lists and our post office box is packed with all sorts of unsolicited crap. Some are catalogues of clones of companies that I have done business with. Some are from companies or organizations that are just looking for customers or subscribers. A few are obvious swindles.

The most obvious swindle that I ever received was received a few weeks ago. It said, "NEVER LOSE AT SLOTS AGAIN! EVER! GUARANTEED! It went on to offer, for $26.25, a fool proof system for winning money by playing slot machines. How they got my name, I will never know, since they are targeting the fools who play slot machines. Not only is what they offer impossible, but the only way that you can keep from losing at the slots is to never play them. The brochure even offer a money back guarantee plus $5 if you are not pleased with it. The company will make a fortune because there are a lot of fools in the world and, when they find out that they have been scammed, they will be too ashamed to admit it. Most people who are swindled never report it. I thought of testing out their money back guarantee, but I would lose my money for sure, because anyone who would mount such an outrageous swindle would be sure to keep the money. I called the Postal Inspector's office and got the bureaucratic run around. They have more business than they can handle and I can't really blame them for not wanting any more.

There are a number of so-called charitable organizations that solicit money. What they do with your money is rarely revealed. The salaries of their executives are not in their brochures. They are hidden in some category such as office expenses. One organization that interested me is the American Institute for Cancer Research, whose name could easily be confused with the National Cancer Institute or the American Cancer Society. It is no accident that the name resembles that of the ACS and NCI. I checked into the organization and they have a board of directors who funnel their funds into their own pet projects which, so far as I can tell, will contribute little to our understanding of cancer and little to help people with the disease. I could not find out how much the organizer and president of the organization is paid. I am even beginning to have my doubts about the venerable American Cancer Society. Any organization that depends for its existence on public donations is bound to spend more of its efforts acquiring money than it does in doing things that might be of value to the public. Some so-called charitable institutions spend almost all of their money on fund raising.

When my book The Topic of Cancer was being published, the editor phoned me and asked me about some breakthrough that she had read about at St. Jude hospital. I told her that it was probably part of their fund raising campaign. Sure enough, a few days later I received their solicitation in the mail.

I recently purchased two computer products with $50 rebate offers from two different mail order companies. In both cases, I had to phone the companies in order to get the coupons and in one case they rejected my application because I used a post office box instead of a street address. In other words, they will do anything to keep from paying you what they said they would. I will never fall for a rebate offer again. The only reason that they use rebates instead of simply lowering the price is because they can get out of paying it much of the time. They wouldn't use it if they didn't make more money out of a rebate offer than they would do with a price reduction. The November '99 issue of Consumer Reports has an article on rebates called "Doing the Rebate Rumba." If I had read it beforehand it would have saved me a good deal of trouble.

Actually, I have no one to blame but myself for falling for scams. I just realized that I had broken a personal rule of mine to never try to get something for nothing. It's the best way that I know of to avoid getting swindled. A person who doesn't try to get something for nothing cannot be scammed; hence the saying, "You can't cheat an honest man." However, there are an awful lot of swindlers out there, all trying to get money out of people for providing absolutely nothing in the way of a product or service.

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