Personal Finance

Vanity Scams

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.

10 replies on “Vanity Scams”

Heh, I remember someone doing a corporate version of this when I lived in NY – sending out congratulations for being on the “contractor of the year 2000 list!” or whatever and then sending an invoice for 300 bucks for the framed certificate.

Ahhh the “super smart” girl who writes poetry. The poetry girl in my class was also won a Ford Supermodel contest. She got struck with the perfect stick twice. I’ll go back to writing code under my rock now… 😉

I have a vague recollection of receiving something about being in some “who’s who” book while in high school and about how wonderful it would be to buy this book I’m in.

The good news is the internet now makes it easier to research these kind of things. The bad news is the internet also gives scammers access to a much wider audience and even if only 1 and 1000 fall for it, they are making decent money.

Love the blog. Read everyday.

On the topic of scams, I have another good pseudo-legit one. One of the big box home improvement retailers here contracts out their services. They are “so busy” to get a quote, you pay $50 which is rolled into the payment for the finished work it you proceed with the job.

Here is my plan. Do the same. Quote every job at $1M, collect my $50. Hey, to cut down on transportation cost, I can even do the quote over the phone. Just give me the approximate size of the deck you want, and I’ll “crunch the numbers”. Credit card payments in advance only please 🙂

I can’t remember if I was published in one of these or not. (Sorry, Mr. Cheap, I’m not single!) I remember being a kid and a poet–both of which have dropped off as I’ve gotten older 😉 –and entering a lot of poetry contests and the like. I did get 3rd in a legitimate one in my age group, but I also found one of these publication things out of Owings Mills.

Anyway, I remember finding out that it was a scam and therefore not buying any books. But I can’t remember whether I submitted a poem or not. Who knows, maybe there are volumes out there with one of my poems in them. I did buy my college’s literary publication when it published a set of my haiku, but having been to selection meetings, I can say that I know they don’t just let anyone in! Plus at $5…totally worth it. 😀

[…] really enjoying a lot of it. As a writer, one article I found particularly interesting was about vanity scams. I have vague memories of being involved with one of these out of Owings Mills, though we never […]

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