Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Who are they trying to kid?

If people weren't gullible and in a rush to part with their hard earned money, scam artists would have a harder time lining their pockets with it. Of course, I don't blame the swindlers entirely: one must possess an extremely tough hide in order to be fooled by a Nigerian "prince"; a teak plantation owner selling teak stakes; an emu farmer and the classic pyramid scheme selling everything from cosmetics to computer software.

At the heart of it is greed and a desire to get rich quick. The swindler takes that greed into account and fabricates an elaborate backdrop and promises you profits so great that you see cartoon dollar signs in your eyes. (cue cash register sound)

Something new to the scene is vanity publishing. To quote the Office of the Attorney General (State of Connecticut)

This scheme begins with a letter addressed "Dear Business Executive" or "Attention Professional Engineer." The letter goes on to describe how the publisher of "Who's Who in the Business World" or "The World's Top Engineers" wants to include your name and accomplishments in the next edition. Often, the recipient is flattered into providing the details of his or her career. The vanity publisher counts on people who think they've received a special recognition being more than willing to pay to see their name in print. The publisher charges a fee for the privilege of being included in the listing, then tries to sell copies of the book at inflated prices. A variety of the scheme involves a business being contacted by a phone caller who wants to include the company's name in some kind of directory. These directories are usually aimed at a specific market or profession. A fee is charged and the directory is usually distributed, if at all, to subscribers only.

So, I get a letter in the mail today from the International Biographical Centre, Cambridge, England. My first warning was that the postmark was from Sweden (why not from England?). Read the letter in its entirety (click on it).
There are some tell-tale signs of a scam. Sometimes, they are well hidden or cleverly covered up, with this is a case where the clues are out in the open. Let's see:

* It employs a congratulatory tone that seeks to establish trust by means of flattery and ego stoking.

* The title of "Health Professional" is too general. It would have been less suspicious if it had been a specific field like microbiology or industrial biotechnology.

*Note the unnecessary use of complex English in an attempt to blind and distract-- " the bearer of this owner will be recorded in perpetuity."

* So yeah... What exactly was the research methodology involved to single me out from the hundreds of other deserving individuals out there?

* No information on what the actual "award" is or what benefits it offers to the recipient. A cash award? Perhaps a certificate of merit? Even more suspicious is the fact that no information about the awarding body is included.

The biggest give away was that I had the opportunity to purchase a "illuminated certificate in full-colour, on the finest parchment" (not color; this is from England you see....) page print of my "name and designation" or a golden plaque with my credentials embossed on it for 97£. Of course, that's excluding the modest 5£ for handling charges.
Who the fuck pays someone to have an honor conferred onto them?
This is a clear example of a scam artist trying to create a market for this product by attracting enough customers to establish a brand name. It's just another company trying to sell you a little self esteem; for a fat price, you can buy a piece of paper with a bunch of fancy words on it. It's no different than the people who try to sell you vanity copies of your dissertation or feature your story or poem in an anthology (and make you pay to see your name in print as opposed to giving you a royalty cheque).

My grandfather was a cynical man; he had seen enough in life to sense ulterior motives in even the most innocuous of gestures. Perhaps he took things a little too far, but he made two points very clear: "Honesty is a virtue soon to be lost from the world" and "The ferocity of a tiger is for naught if the deer is two steps ahead of its foe". 

How right he was. 


prateek mathur said...

great grandpa lesson!

Nikhil Rajagopalan said...

Thanks for reading, Prateek.