There’s a famous saying that “there’s a sucker born every minute.”
This is commonly attributed to P.T. Barnum, the famed carnival barker, though like many well-known sayings, its origins are obscure and it’s not certain that Phineas Taylor actually said this. Which goes to show that even an acknowledged maestro of hoaxes is himself being hoaxed, a tasty piece of irony in a world filled with groaning buffet tables of irony.
I raise Phineas because my life, and yours, I am certain, are besieged nonstop by scams, frauds, and fakery. These are delivered to our virtual doorstep by an evil and persistent Amazon-level doppelganger, except here the vaunted enterprise is in thrall to a relentless effort not to provide us with a cornucopia of consumer goods but to relieve us of our money and add aggravation to our lives.
Definitely not customer fulfillment.
I like to think of it instead as reverse osmosis, as in maple syrup production, except hooked up to a septic tank, not to a tree.
I bring this up because, for the first time, I appear to have been successfully scammed digitally, despite prudent efforts and precautions. I figure if it happened to me it can happen to you — or has already.
As a longtime, skeptical-by-trade journalist, cautious consumer, and checker of everything (known to investigate stuff to death and then into the afterlife), I do not count myself easy prey. The endless calls on my landline — that my car warranty has expired (it’s on a lease), that “Amy” wants to talk to me about my health insurance (I’m on Medicare), or that an IRS lien has been filed against me and I need to respond or the sheriff will arrest me (with my writer’s income … haha, not likely) — have been only an annoyance.
So too with the cascade of ever-changing permutations of spam that elude the Gmail filters. The latest (near daily) iteration informs me that my yearly subscription to Norton 360 has been “renewed AND updated successfully” for $285.37 via automatic debit. Should I want to “unsubscribe and ask for a REIMBURSE” there’s a number to call. I have so far resisted the temptation to pick up the phone. Though I do like to prank the scammers when I am bored, once having gotten one so mad at me for wasting his time, he angrily informed me I should go, um, do something terrible to my mother.
So perhaps now I have encountered some scam Karma? It happened on Instagram, which I am new to and joined mostly to follow my daughter and her friends. It was there I saw an ad for a nifty cast-iron device called a “kindling cracker” that you put a log into and pound the log down on a sharp-edged multi-bladed bar that splits the wood into numerous small shafts of wood. Not trusting Instagram, I went online from my computer and went to the website with videos and reviews and information on the device, and ordered the small version, for $45. It was a worrisome clue that I did not get the usual emailed confirmation and shipping info. Worse, then came a PayPal receipt with a lot of Chinese script on it. After a couple weeks I messaged the website and got this frustrated reply back:
“For over 18 weeks we have been reporting all these to Facebook and they let them run, I think they like the worldwide advertising dollars that they are making from these criminals … Facebook is broken and they don’t care how many people get ripped off by these scams, Andrew.”
Apparently I logged onto a bogus website that appropriated this fellow’s product on the web and all his information, not to mention all his sales. I did not, perhaps naively, know this was possible. Though I entirely believe it is possible for Facebook.
But that was not the end of the story. A couple weeks later, a small package arrived in the mail, with Chinese letters and also a mailing address that was “Joe Doe” of Springfield Gardens, N.Y. Yeah, right. I was not expecting anything from Amazon or anyone else and wondered what it was. Opening it up, inside I found my “Kindling Cracker.” Or should I say, a fake toy-like version, made of light metal, with a dull blade that was unlikely to split much.
Perhaps sending something, even bogus, can provide some protection against being flagged by Meta/Facebook/Instagram? Who knows.
All I can tell you is remember what PT Barnum said. And double it in the digital realm.
Andrew Nemethy writes, skis, snowshoes, and gets scammed from an old farmhouse in Adamant.
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