We've all been scammed; admit it
February 21, 2012

Some readers may be a bit leery over paying any sum to read a book entitled, "Scammed." After all, it would be so easy for an author to borrow what he exposes. Christopher Elliott, however, is known as "every consumer's best friend." And throughout his book he includes flashbacks to his own life. He wants the reader to know that even he did not escape the flim-flam artist. Hey, I'm one of you, he's saying to those who aren't afraid to admit to being victimized.

Elliott, pictured, believes that the most challenging part of being a consumer advocate is "handling the inbred defeatism of most consumers." This may be true of many young people who find that it's easier to give in than to complain, especially if they have to deal with a company hiding behind automatic phone systems or those that shift the caller from pillar to post until they get disconnected.

When Elliott talks about being scammed, he isn't just referring to fraud perpetrated by the obvious scam artist but also to any company--from multinational corporations to neighborhood shops to Joe Blow the handyman--bent on preserving the bottom line at the expense of treating customers fairly. He distinguishes between a scam, rip-off and bad deal and offers strategies for not becoming victimized.

For instance, Elliott goes into detail regarding what he calls "search engine optimization" or "SEO." He explains how companies go to great lengths to raise their webpage rankings on the Internet, even to hiring SEO service providers that insert sneaky code to rig an Internet search and railroad an unwary consumer to a particular site. These same companies may also have the ability to cover up complaints, managing their images through SEO and reputation management. So, Elliott's advice is not to rely on a single search engine and to be skeptical of anything and everything that is found. This skepticism, Elliott shows, goes hand-in-hand with learning to be an enlightened consumer.

Breaking away from traditional advertising, subliminal messaging in advertising is a way that businesses get people to buy their products but it may have become less popular than the aggressive use of social media or Twitter for pitching products. Elliott asks, "Is the tweet you just saw from a friend really an endorsement--or a paid-for ad?" His chapter, "That's Not an Ad," goes into great detail over how companies are defying the commonly accepted definition of advertising and forcing corporate messages into every aspect of a consumer's life.

In describing how he like others was under the spell of the new Apple iPhone hype, Elliott introduces the reader to what he calls a "walled garden," an environment that controls access to content and services. Calling Apple's app store and the iTunes program two examples, he admits that consumers fall prey to them without much critical thinking, accepting something that is "easy and safe." Other examples he offers for discussion are AOL, Facebook and shopping malls.

Loyalty programs also get his attention. He admits he is a "frequent flier-a-holic" but he tells the reader what makes loyalty programs dangerous, offering detailed advice on signing up.

Research more than suggests that consumers do less thinking than acting before making a purchasing decision and are often unaware of the forces that dictate behavior. Elliott warns that if we as consumers don't learn from our mistakes, we often repeat them. Unfortunately, rather than read what watchdogs such as himself have to say, surveys show that reader interest is piqued by news articles that instead are often just salacious.

"Think of Scammed as preventative medicine, Elliott informs the reader. "Each section will not only enlighten you to nascent challenges of the twenty-first-century customer but inoculate you against your own destructive (indeed, self-destructive behavior)." Getting his readers in the right frame of mind, Elliott then offers procedures for getting companies to right any wrongs. He also lists 10 ways to connect with him to ask him questions or, since he's open to change, give him advice.

Title - Scammed or How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles and Shady Deals
Author: Christopher Elliott
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons (2012) 209 pp.
$15.96 (hard cover) at amazon.com
ISBN-10: 1118108000/ISBN-13: 978-1-118-10800-0

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