Who’s the Chump?

Posted: July 19, 2010 in Consumerism, Corporatism, Culture, Economics, Legal Matters

There is an aphorism in poker that goes, if you look around the table and don’t know who the chump is, then it’s you. A similar sentiment makes movies about con men entertaining. These days, the likelihood of running into an actual con, scam, Ponzi scheme, fraud, ripoff, or swindle where you’re the chump or mark is pretty high. It’s not necessary to include all the so-called 419 scam e-mails emanating from Nigeria or the United Kingdom promising millions of funds to be transferred into your name or a foreign lottery you’ve just won. Scams are now built into banking and credit card fees, municipal codes, cell phone and utility service agreements, and many other aspects of everyday commerce in what is being called gotcha capitalism. It makes a person wonder whether honest business practices are becoming rare.

The brazenness of some scams is pretty breathtaking. The infamous example of Bernie Maddoff’s Ponzi hedge fund is probably an aberration in terms of both duration and the dollar amounts involved, but further scams that have emerged over the months since Maddoff’s fall are still pretty breathtaking. In March 2010, the Boston Bridal Show was revealed to be a sham only a few days before the event. The Washington Post also reported in March about the increase of food fraud. (We all know by now to be suspicious of anything consumable coming from China.) The following month, The Consumerist reported a Facebook scam that netted over 37,000 victims in one day. (The Consumerist is one of my regular blog reads precisely to keep up with the latest weirdness in the marketplace. A correspondent of mine reads snopes.com regularly for the same reason, though it’s directed at rumor mongering and urban legends.) Many believe eBay has been ruined by scam artists. Even the Chicago Tribune recently identified common scams to beware. In fact, many websites track emerging scams and publish alerts (see here and here and here and here and here, for instance).

There have always been scoundrels only too happy to take advantage of witless rubes. It may be worth noting that the ease of communications and in some cases production now make it simple to take a machine-gun approach: fire at everyone and see what hits. As a result, as members of society, we’re now in the unfortunate position of having to be suspicious of every routine transaction of money or information; we have to fend off the con men and swindlers continuously. If a clearinghouse exists for brands and/or businesses that are not automatically and reflexively out to getcha, I would be interested in learning of it.

  1. Jennie says:

    I know of several people who have gotten “taken” in scams. It’s mortifying. Hopefully, people will educate themselves at least a little to avoid any phishing emails, strange texts or other digital means of conning.

  2. Beige says:

    “machine-gun approach: fire at everyone and see what hits”

    Reminds me of Cory Doctorow’s story of being phished. You receive more-or-less-obvious scam offers all the time, but you also get stuff that you weren’t expecting and is obviously fraud, but they sent that “password reset information” or “important update to the sales contract” or whatever to *everyone* and someone out there will actually be expecting such a thing.

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