Tag Archives: scam

There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute

1 Jan

Yesterday, I pontificated on the legitimacy of some book awards and college accreditation–areas in which I have an abiding interest. However, this idea can be spread to any subject. But what if it’s something I only mildly care about?

I was convinced many years ago to buy fair trade coffee. I figured the exchange was worthwhile–if producers pay coffee farmers double the price per bushel (say $0.50 to $1 for a giant bag), it doesn’t make a great difference to the US customer, but it makes a huge difference in Costa Rica. They can afford to send their kids to school, they can build their houses up, and greatly improve their life. I lived on a mountain in India for three years making $300/month, and for the area, I lived as an upper middle class professional. So I’ve seen the difference a little extra change can mean in the developing world.

But as I said, I’m only mildly care about fair trade coffee. I watched a three-hour documentary on it. As you can see here, these are four different legitimate fair trade logos that producers can slap on their bags. I’ve seen a lot more. How much effort am I going to make as a coffee consumer to make sure that their fair trade certification is legitimate? Thirty seconds of a Google search? Two minutes? Most of the time, I’m simply going to take it as legitimate and feel virtuous about buying expensive coffee, and not double check the label.

Here in Arizona, building and service contractors have to register with the Arizona Registrar of Contractors and get a license number that they have to put on their advertising and trucks. This shows that they are accountable to the state if they screw up the job on your house. You can actually go to the AROC website and look them up by license number. However, is there any reason that I, as a disreputable contractor, couldn’t just do a search, find a contractor that sounds like me, and just paste their number on my truck? Or just put any number on there and bet that most customers won’t bother checking?

To give another example, I’ve sent both of my kids (and now just my daughter) to Tempe Montessori School. We love the education and their philosophy and it works really well with both of their ADHD types. However, do I really know the difference between AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) and the AMS (American Montessori Society) certification? I had to ask my wife (because she cares greatly about most things more than I) and she preferred AMI, because AMS makes “too many concessions” to American public school practice. So my wife did the research and I took her word on it. Many parents will take word of mouth over certification any day. It’s more consistent.

When we first came to Arizona, we sent our kids to Sholom Montessori, because we really loved the idea of a Jewish Montessori school–we had sent Asher to one when he was four years old and he did great. Turned out the school was a scam by the founders, and they used the money from that (and a synagogue they ran) to pay their bills and fix up their house. The head of the school was also the elementary school teacher, but after six months, she decided to stop teaching, leaving the class in the hands of her 12-year-old daughter. She got work visas for young women from Israel so she could pay them #*$& and give them the awful choice of “work for me or go home to Israel.” Six months after we pulled out of that school, and a message to the AZ Department of Education and the Jewish Tuition Organization, they were finally shut down.

I guess the point of all of this is caveat emptor–let the buyer beware. Because even with certification, anyone can put a sticker on their website and say they’re certified (as was the case with Sholom Montessori; the agency had never heard of them!) So I’m less impressed with accreditation that some people–but I could be wrong. Have you had more positive experiences with certification and those kinds of agencies? Or are you as cynical as I am? Let me know in the comments below!

If Only You Could Send Me…

24 Sep

So someone tried to scam on Twitter. They claimed to be a poor boy whose mom was sick and him and his two sisters had just run out of rice. And your only salvation is a Twitter follower you met yesterday? Yeah, right…

I’m a pretty caring person – homelessness is actually one of the few causes I give a damn about. However, I’m also jaded, and don’t believe things at face value. The guy with the sign on the street in America might be hungry, but he’s not going to use the money you give him to get food. He can raid trash cans for food. He’s gonna use it for whatever is going to make him happy. Drugs, drink… hell, getting a new cell phone. Every homeless man in America has a smartphone. So if I give something to a man with a sign, it’s water or food, not money.

So when I give to the homeless, I give to Family Promise. That’s a great charity that specializes in not only providing shelter and food for homeless families (because most shelters are gender-divided, so sons can’t stay with their mothers), but also provides employment assistance, does interview training, and provides transitional housing to get them off the street. When I’m feeling particularly soft, I give to Phoenix Rescue Mission, St. Mary’s Food Bank, and the Salvation Army… all charities I respect.

Even when I lived in India, there were the homeless that I respected/knew and the ones that I knew were part of a racket. There, people were obviously hungry, but there is a scam where kids are hired/forced/coerced to look cute and bug people for change. However, that money went to their pimp… don’t have a better name for it. Just like pigeons, if you pay one, you suddenly get a swarm of homeless kids that start asking for money, and you have to yell “baas!” (A rude way to say “get away” in Hindi.)

Interestingly enough, this happens electronically too. The reason I even know about the Phoenix Rescue Mission, St. Mary’s Food Bank, and the local Salvation Army is because Family Promise sold my contact information to them. I was rather annoyed by that – damn it, I gave you money – that doesn’t mean I want to be put on the “sucker” list and get swarmed by homeless advocates.

So that’s how I balance compassion with logic. Part of me still worries that I just shut off a starving boy in… Africa? Gambia. West Africa, that’s right. English is a primary language. But if you’ve got money transfer software, you can take your mom’s cart, drag your sisters along, and sell whatever she sells on the streets of Bangui. But that’s what makes the scammer/beggar’s message so insidious. They are trying to appeal to your best nature. But they think you’re suckers. Look at all those silly people going to work and I get to be free and people give me money for nothing. Suckers.

Am I too jaded? Is there a better way to balance compassion with logic? Let me know in the comments below!

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