HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Here in Boston, we’re celebrating the Red Sox today. In other news, I’m still deciding what to do with all the post-celebration leftover Halloween candy (toss it?) and contemplating the celebration of Thanksgiving, which is astonishingly imminent.
But our dear Terry Ambrose (a true friend of the Reds!) is already (sigh) focusing on the celebration of another holiday. The name of which I will not say, because I cannot even bear how unprepared I am.
But Terry is here to protect us.
Beware the Snake Oil Salesman
It’s just way too early to be thinking about the holidays, right? I guess not. Already I’ve seen Christmas ads, movies, decorations and more. Sheesh. You’d think the happiest time of the year was right around the corner—oh wait, it is. In fact, just last week (yes, before Halloween) I saw a woman mailing gifts to her brother and sister—a picture of an antique car for him, a cushy lap robe for her. What was really interesting to me was that the woman told the postmaster that her sister is a nun in an area where there are no medical services and so she, who just happens to have nursing training, doubles as the area doctor. Talk about altruistic. That kind of dedication—working tirelessly for years with no monetary compensation—seems like it’s way above my pay grade. I admit it—money matters. While I’ve never “hit the big time,” I feel like I work hard for every dollar I bring in. You probably do, too. And that makes being able to do something nice for others at this time of year a bit more special.
Oddly enough, the holidays not only bring out the best in people, but the worst. Just when we should be filled with joy at being able to give to others, along comes the guy I’ll call the Snake Oil Salesman. We get this guy’s emails every day. We see his websites—and they’re perfect replicas of the real thing.
The Snake Oil Salesman is the scammer who makes it difficult to know whether we’re buying real Swarovski crystal or a cheap Chinese imitation. Worse than that, he’s the guy who makes us wonder if we’re giving to a charitable cause or a personal one. As a former identity theft victim and someone who writes about scams and cons in fiction and real life, I tend to be especially cynical of online solicitations, special offers in the mail, or telemarketers. So, with the holidays approaching, my cynic meter crawls into the red because I know that the scammers and con artists will be working overtime to ensure that they have a happy holiday season—at our expense.
I can almost hear the sounds of the season: bells ringing, songs about merry times—and my telephone jangling away with the next guy wanting to sell me something I can’t live without. Or maybe he’s just trying to get me to give to a cause I’ve never heard of before.
Charitable donation requests are already decorating mailboxes and email accounts, and soon people dressed in red will stand outside of malls and grocery stores ringing bells. Studies show that half of charitable donations are made between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. What many people don’t realize is that, depending upon which charity you give to, those charitable contributions may not make it to the intended recipient. Instead, they might be going to a Snake Oil Salesman.
Did you know that within hours of the Boston Marathon explosion there were websites, both legitimate and fraudulent, set up to solicit donations? The same thing happens during the holidays. So what’s a “good” person to do to avoid lining the pockets of a “bad” person? Here are three simple suggestions to help avoid being taken by “that guy.”
• Check out businesses and charities with the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org.
• Online scammers create great fakes websites and emails. Don’t be fooled by good artwork, perfect logos or a slick website. The good scammers can perfectly duplicate a website or email.
• Never succumb to pressure. Pressure is the con man’s friend. It’s certainly not mine, nor is it yours. I’ve come to the opinion that if someone thinks they need to force me into a quick decision, the safest thing to do is walk away.
Do you have examples of when you have—or just missed—falling for the Snake Oil Salesman? Do you have special tips to pass on to others?
HANK: I bet I’ve missed real emails—because the ones that look too fishy, I simply delete. So good question, Terry! Have you ever gotten ripped off. Reds? Or—almost? (And Terry, what happened to you?)
“Kauai Temptations” is Terry’s new McKenna Mystery and it’s about what happens when the search for an identity thief takes a wrong turn. Wilson McKenna’s bank tells him he’s written $4,000 in bad checks on an island he’s never been to. That makes him one unhappy haole. Things get worse when he’s nearly arrested for impersonating himself and the woman who trashed his credit turns up dead. Before he knows it, McKenna’s up to his ‘umi’umi in hot lava.
Find “Kauai Temptations” on Amazon.com or learn more about it at terryambrose.com.