With scams the best defense is often to discuss them and let people who haven’t run into them know how they work. Unfortunately, talking about scams can seem like a “how to” for scam artists, which IS NOT my intention here. I always love reading about scams and cons, in part to protect myself, and in part out of amazement at how devious people can be when they’re trying to part us from our cash.
Growing up I was good friends with one of those “super smart” girls we all knew. She’d have her compositions read in English class and everyone would make a fuss over her. You know the type (actually, if you do know the type and they’re over 18 tell them Mr. Cheap is single!).
One day my parents showed me a picture of her in the local newspaper. She’d had a poem accepted and was published in a collection. The next time I was at her house I congratulated her. She mentioned that she had got two copies of the publication and one was on their mantelpiece. I asked her if they’d sent her the two copies as author’s copies and she admitted that no, she’d bought them. I congratulated her again and let it drop as I knew she’d just been the victim of a vanity scam.
The person putting out the publication puts out a call for submissions far and wide. Everyone who submitted was accepted, then he offers the publication for sale at a hefty mark-up over his printing costs. He then sold a couple copies to each of the authors (not to anyone else – if some authors didn’t buy who cares? Most did) and started soliciting submissions to his next edition. The “authors” would have been just as “published” if they’d headed down to the local print shop and self published (although that might have been less likely to get their picture in the local paper). More info about this type of scam is available here.
Vanity scams work on our pride in ourselves or our loved ones (usually a spouse or a child). Most of us are predisposed to think that we’re pretty darn wonderful, and when someone comes along agreeing with us its tough to ignore whatever they’re selling.
“Modelling agencies” will do something similar when they tell you how beautiful your daughter is and how they can get her modelling and TV work. Who doesn’t think their daughter is beautiful, so the parents buy it hook-line-and-sinker. Then comes the pitch that a $800 photo shoot is necessary for them to accept your princess as their client. The parents pay, poor quality photos are taken, and they never hear from the agency again. If asked the agency can just say they haven’t found anything yet.
An uncle of mine years ago had an idea for a business selling fake pot plants. People could buy it to try and look cool to their friends without risking trouble from the police (I’m not sure what you’d do if one of your cool friends wanted to actually smoke it). At one point he got invited in for a meeting with a bunch of guys dressed in suits who claimed to be venture capitalists and wanted to invest in his business. The catch was that they wanted a couple of thousand dollars to do “market research” on his idea. Needless to say, if he’d had this money to give them it would have been gone.
A few weeks after her purchase, the book disappeared from my friend’s mantelpiece. I didn’t bring up the subject, but I hoped that she had got some wisdom as a “gift with purchase” of her book.
Be VERY careful when someone tells you that you have a wonderful opportunity (because you’re so special) if you just can come up with a bit of cash. They may be selling you a dream and nothing else. If you really have so much raw talent, they should cover the costs of giving you author’s copies, taking pictures or market research.
“O that men’s ears should be To counsel deaf but not to flattery!” – W.S.