Buyers beware of shysters, charlatans and shylocks

Published 1:51 am Wednesday, March 19, 2003

By By Lloyd Albritton
I opened my AOL e-mail today and was greeted by 250 "spam" e-mails. For those of you who have not yet entered cyberspace, "spam" is internet jargon for junk mail. Here are a few samples from the subject lines:
Aggressive Home Loan Lenders
Order Viagra, diet pills and other prescription medicines
Boost your cell reception by 50%
100% legal steroids
Lose weight NOW!
Ultimate technique for men
Each day my mailbox is filled with advertising flyers and special offers; and over half the telephone calls ringing in to my home phone each day are canned sales solicitations. My television is inundated with articulate preachers and positive-thinking hucksters who broadcast their sermons nationally from huge, elaborate cathedrals packed with people who appear to be hanging on every word the false prophets utter. I receive numerous job offers from people who tell me I can make an absolutely staggering income by selling their products and services, if only I will invest in "The Start Up Kit." Executive Recruiter firms who find my job resume posted on the Internet call me regularly and promise to land me a job with a major company with a six-figure income, if only I will invest in their professional resume service and pay them thousands of dollars to make a professional video interview.
This is the down side of modern communications technology. Reputable Internet Service Providers have implemented many specialty software applications to block unwanted spam e-mail, but their efforts have largely been in vain, for the ingenious purveyors of Internet junk mail are like slime. When one hole is filled, they simply ooze to the next opening and find a way in, for they know that their phony products appeal to the innate, base nature of many, and that they will prevail if only they can get their message to enough people. It is purely a numbers game, a fundamental sales strategy.
"How To" books have always been popular in the marketplace. Certainly it is reasonable and acceptable for one who has acquired unique success, skills and knowledge in a certain field of endeavor to sell those ideas in a published work. The huge success of the "How To" book market, however, has led many unethical imposters to market manuals and books with nothing but bland, obvious ideas and advice. A book entitled "How To Kill Cockroaches," for example, selling for the nominal price of $29.95, might instruct the reader in one sentence to put the cockroach on the floor and step on it. This sounds like an exaggeration, I know, but it is not so far from the truth.
In today's economy, many people have been laid off from good-paying jobs, often with a severance allowance to assist them in finding new employment. Executive head-hunter agencies are preying on these people, not to find them jobs, but to relieve them of their nest eggs. These agencies seldom find or guarantee anyone a job, but they do offer a variety of tools and services to enhance employability at prices into the thousands of dollars. To take advantage of people in these circumstances is unconscionable and those who do it are virtual wolves in sheep's clothing.
Perhaps the worst of the lot are the charlatan evangelists who use their charms and charisma to attract naive followers and contributors who desire nothing more than to be led into paradisiacal glory by way of Easy Street. They strut back and forth across their stages like Mick Jagger and pretend to heal people by pushing them backward or simply blowing on them. Oh, they've studied their Bibles alright, and they know all the good stories and how to tell them in an entertaining way. And that's what they do: they entertain their audiences. In return, they request and receive millions of dollars in donations from poor, ignorant people who have trouble buying groceries. One might consider that these people are only providing good entertainment at a price and that what they are doing is only taking advantage of our wonderful free market system of commerce. And that might be true, except that the great treasures they take in are all tax exempt because they pose as legitimate, sacrosanct religious organizations. They also exploit the poor, ignorant and naive of the world by tapping into the core of emotions that characterize the human condition, that is, our innate need and desire for a connection to God and a life after death. This is very similar to a child molester enticing a little child into his lair with a candy bar.
There are more laws to protect us from the guile of unethical hucksters today than ever before, yet deceptive practices in every area of society abounds. Lies have always made their way into the minds of men by posing as the truth. Even so, today the advanced technologies which have brought so much good to man have also made possible the most sophisticated chicanery imaginable. The only real defense we have against deception and fraud is the same defense we have always had, i.e., have trust and confidence in our own good judgement, try not to make the same mistake twice and shoot shysters, charlatans and shylocks on sight!
Lloyd Albritton is a regular columnist for The Atmore Advance.

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