January 10, 2016
As a reformed advertising salesman, I’m all too aware of the tricks, tactics and schemes used by marketers to get you to buy their stuff. Every day on radio, TV and the internet advertisers use buzzwords that, if you pay attention, can alert you to rip offs. P.T. Barnum, circus entrepreneur and scam artist in his own right, used to say “There’s a sucker born every minute”. Don’t be a sucker. Beware of these 10 warning signs of an advertising rip off.
“Hurry! This is a Limited Time Offer!” What they’re really saying is “we have a ton of this junk to unload so please make call today and help us get rid of it!” The same logic applies to sales people from any profession. The minute anyone indicates that you have to buy now or lose the opportunity, disengage from the discussion.
“The Next 20 Callers will Receive this Offer!” This is another version of the “Limited Time” offer above made by marketers who are fully delusional regarding the benefit their product offers. They’re saying, in effect, our product is so hot, so amazing that we can only give it to the next 20 customers. When they’re really feeling bold, these hucksters get their commercial production guys to add a digital counter to the upper corner of their television spot that magically counts the number of people who have called in. That’s right, they’re giving a “live” update on a commercial that was recorded months ago.
“Our Product is Free. Call now!” Nothing is free. Marketers making this offer easily make up the difference in ‘shipping and handling’ charges, which is a huge profit center for mail order junk merchants. I repeat, nothing is free.
“Money-Back Guarantee!” See “Our Product is Free” above. Shipping and handling are used for this scam too.
“This is a Rare Product” The numismatic coin guys use this all the time. “We’ve found a rare batch of coins from the era of Theodore Roosevelt!” Buyer beware. The only thing that’s rare in this deal is any value to the consumer. Nothing ‘rare’ or ‘valuable’ is sold via an 800 number.
“Over 1 Million Products Have Been Sold“: Sadly, these claims are often true. (See P.T. Barnum quote above).
“Buy Now and We’ll Give You a Second Free“: Buy One, Get One (BOGO) is the latest tactic being used to fool consumers. Retailers often mark-up BOGO products just before they’re offered for sale. Shipping and handling can also be used to hide profits. Before you fall for this scam, do a search on eBay or Amazon to check the real, competitive price for a product.
“Today We’re Taking Calls from States That Begin With the Letters A-L“: I’m getting sick to my stomach now. This tactic came from the same ad agency that dreamed up the digital counter. I assure you, anyone who can fog a mirror and has a valid credit card will be most welcome.
“Get Your Free Trial Today, Call Now!”: While there are some legitimate try-it-before-you-buy-it offers, many are dangerous for consumers. Because the ‘free offer’ requires that you place a credit card ‘on file’, consumers are required to go through a cancellation process to prevent future charges from hitting their card. And, to no surprise, the process of cancelling your commitment is often difficult if not impossible to accomplish. Unless you’re dealing with a well-respected company, it’s best not to sign up for any free trials. And, generally, 800 line marketers don’t fall into the ‘respected company’ category.
Use of “Amazing”, “Incredible” or “First Ever”: Using superlatives in describing anything is a red flag. In fact, in many cases just attach an ‘un-‘ to the beginning of the descriptor and the description will be more accurate.
The Consumer Team Solution…..Vet Your Purchases: The easiest, most effective way to fight back against scans is to thoroughly vet your purchases. Get multiple bids for any service related purchases and price-check anything past $30 or so. Smartphone Apps, such as Red Lazer, are an excellent way to quickly find the lowest price available on a product. For more information on being a more savvy consumer, join us for The Consumer Team radio program, Saturdays 5-7 PM Central, on 1080 KRLD Radio, Dallas-Ft. Worth.
Frank Underwood, the totally depraved character from House of Cards, does occasionally speak wisdom. In one episode, when his wife Claire is trying to coax him to use a rowing machine she recently purchased, he said “I refuse to be a slave to anything you order through a toll free number.” His sleaziness notwithstanding, in this regard, Frank speaks the consumer truth.