Tag Archives: scams

Working Hard

These days, people who have a job are mostly happy to have one. A lot of people who don’t have one would like one. Some people are satisfied not to have work, especially if they can take advantage of government help. The number of people filing for disability payments has skyrocketed, for example. Of course, many of those people truly can’t work, but it’s not a coincidence that the number of applicants has grown dramatically during a time when jobs are especially hard to find.

We all have our reasons for what we do, or don’t do. We’re all trying to get by, and for a lot of families things are pretty rough these days.

There are some highly entrepreneurial people who seem to work very hard at not working. Some of them appear to be unemployable – like the people on State Street in Madison who sit in rags with a beggar’s cup. Others, though, are very creative and talented, but not willing or able to work in the conventional sense.

Here are two examples:

The first was reported by a friend of mine who was sitting in the Amtrak terminal waiting room in Chicago. A young man nearby was talking on his phone. Ostensibly, he was speaking with his mother. “No,” he said, “they insist on cash and they won’t accept my credit card. I told them that I have to get home to help you, but there’s nothing I can do without $10 in cash so I can buy a ticket.”

I’m paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it. My friend almost gave the kid some money to solve his quandary, but didn’t. Looking around to see nobody coming forward, the stranded teen went to the other side of the terminal and had the same phone conversation – or pretended to – and that performance netted him the $10. My friend saw him outside a while later enjoying a cigarette with a friend. I guess it was break time.

Months later, my friend was in that same terminal, and the same young man was pulling his scam again. It sounds a lot like going to work, but is probably more lucrative, and as a bonus, there are no taxes to worry about.

The second con happened to me twice. Well, I fell for it once. The second time I was wiser. While filling up the tank of a rental car at a gas station near an airport, a woman frantically approached me. She was neatly dressed, in her 50’s, and looked like a nice lady. She emotionally told her story. She had just left her abusive husband, and was starting a new life. She had a new job – today was to be the first day – and she needed gas money to get there. Normally very cynical about these things, I gave her some money. She thanked me profusely, and a moment later she was gone.

Last week the same thing happened, though in a different city. This woman was wearing the kind of outfit that a receptionist would wear in a medical office. Same deal: divorce, new job, needed gas to get there. This time I said no, and she gave me a dirty look before going to the lady on the other side of the gas pump island. She scored. Then she hopped into a car being driven by a man talking on a smart phone, and they drove to the gas station across the street.
In both cases the level of performance was very good – equal to any community theater. I know a lot of sales managers who would kill to get that kind of talent on their sales teams.

I don’t know the backstory of these people, but I assume their lives aren’t very good. It’s possible drugs are involved, or some kind of extortion that makes them do what they do.

The bottom line is that some people will do anything to get a job, and it appears some people will do anything to keep from getting one. As my dad said about a million times, “It takes all kinds to make a world.”


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Too True To Be Good

One thing is pretty certain: there have always been, and will always be people lined up around the block trying to sell you something. Most of those people are honest and have perfectly good products and services that some folks need. This isn’t about those people.

The Romans had a phrase – or at least Latin teachers do – “Caveat Emptor,” or, “Buyer Beware.” While we do have some legal protections against fraud in commercial transactions, the burden falls on us as consumers to determine if we should or shouldn’t buy something.

Unfortunately, even the smartest people don’t have enough knowledge to make purchasing decisions in every possible situation. Maybe 200 years ago the average person could judge whether a plow or an anvil or a pound of butter was a good value, but with hundreds of thousands of products available in the modern marketplace, it’s impossible to know a good buy from a bad one.

Though, to be fair, useless patent medicines were around back then, and plenty of people spent a lot of money on snake oil and miracle cures.

Medical science in this new century is so complex, what with the human genome having been at least partly unlocked, Eastern healing practices and other alternative therapies gaining popularity, and new research on nutrition and sociological factors in health – including job stress, lack of sleep, and other variables we never much thought of in the past.

Not only that, but some things we never dreamed could be treated can now be addressed: things like baldness, impotence, and obesity can be helped by the drugs Propecia, Viagra, and stomach “stapling.” And, almost anybody can see pretty well without glasses, thanks to laser surgery.

The knowledge that such miracles are possible leaves us emotionally vulnerable to the same snake-oil salesmen and women who have been around for years and years.

Radio stations – particularly AM stations, and TV stations – particularly late at night, have a continuing stream of ads for diet products, menopause cures, erectile dysfunction pills, and brain function herbal treatments. One thing they almost always have in common is that they will gladly give you a month’s supply free, in exchange for your credit card information. Not that they plan to steal it or sell it, but any attempt to reach them to get your money back, or to cancel the monthly shipments you’ve inadvertently authorized, will likely be difficult and time consuming, to the point that some people end up paying for months before they can actually reach somebody at the company.

Commercials disguised as TV and radio shows feature “doctors” who pretend to be interviewed by a concerned show hosts on one medical topic or another, and – shock of all shocks – they happen to have a product that will solve all your problems.

My favorite line from these infomercials in disguise is that “doctors and the pharmaceutical companies don’t want you to know about these cures.” There’s nothing like a good conspiracy theory to sell products.

The sad thing is that some non-traditional approaches to medical problems really do offer legitimate help and relief. Not wanting to be suckers, or having been burned in the past, people may shy away from anything new or different.

When it comes to medical things, I’m likely to trust doctors who have studied for eight years or more in medical school, and I’ve found that most of them are pretty open-minded about new approaches. And they may know which ones to steer clear of for safety reasons.

One part of Caveat Emptor is that we all have to make up our own minds about choices we make on our health and everything else. One tip that might help us choose wisely is this: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

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