Letters to the Editor: All That Glitters Is Not Gold

Some would envy Eilidh, being showered with golden jewelry by a male admirer.

She’s not happy, though, as he keeps getting her the cheap stuff, the trinkets that come on the glossy inserts of his credit card statements. It’s not that she’s greedy, it’s just that she can stand uninformed consumerism.

“It isn’t the jewellery he finds seductive, but the lure of acquiring something that sounds like a bargain at an absurdly reduced price,” she writes.

Eilidh uses this as a launch point into a screed about her senior friends who can’t don’t understand that downloading the singing, dancing hippos is an invitation for spyware, and the concept of using throw-away emails to thwart spam. She’s dismayed that these intelligent gents can’t adapt to a modern, duplicitous world of 29% APRs, sneaky value-added services and relentless telemarketers.

“They don’t want to accept that now they have to be as careful when dealing with banks and lending institutions as they once had to be when they ordered a body-building kit from the back pages of a Marvel Comic,” says Eilidh.

All this, inspired by our little ol’ post, “Laptop Reward Traps the Myopic” about a credit card that was offering a “free” laptop with signup.

Careful and involved readership like this deserves commendation and reminds us why we get up in the morning.

Eilidh’s letter, after the jump…

“RE: Laptop Reward Traps the Myopic

Great Website.

My late father used to say: ‘People see what they want to see.’

The issue of the ‘free’ notebook is similar to much of the cheap rubbish offered by the credit card companies to their ‘special’ customers.

A close friend, a much older man, is constantly buying me those diamond bracelets, and gold and gemstone rings offered at impossibly low prices in the glossy inserts he receives with his credit card bills. I have repeatedly asked him not to buy these items. If he saved that money instead of spending it on cheap, tawdry rubbish, once a year he could buy me something nice that I would enjoy wearing. I show him ads where local shops have 50% off sales. I point out that the $300 earrings I fancy are selling for $150. That $150 is less than the total he is paying out for those ugly poorly-made rings and bracelets he is ordering.

Does he listen? No. He continues to call me up to tell me he has ordered another ring, adding that it didn’t cost much so if I don’t like it, it doesn’t really matter.

It isn’t the jewellery he finds seductive, but the lure of acquiring something that sounds like a bargain at an absurdly reduced price.

The man is reasonably intelligent. And yet, no matter how many times he has heard from others, and from me, not to open and read even those few spams whose subject lines interest him, he does it anyway. My stepfather could never be dissuaded from reading spam. ‘I want to see what it says’, he used to explain, looking at us with that I’ve-been-a-bad-boy smile.

The reader can guess who is frequently summoned to fix the men’s PCs, since neither can be bothered to do the manual upgrades to the anti-spyware apps I installed, much less run them to keep the computers clean. Both my stepfather and my friend install those cutesie apps that put FREE dancing smileys and jigging cursors on their systems even though I have repeatedly warned them that these programmes contain spyware. ‘But they’re FREE’, the men remind me whilst complaining that their systems aren’t working right.

They complain about the quantity of spam they receive. They don’t understand how giving out their primary e-mail address to Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes contributes to the problem. They refuse to accept that opening spam leads to more spam. Not one of my elderly friends can be bothered to use the free throw-away e-mail account I set up to prevent their primary address from being spammed. The idea that every individual is a target for con men is lost on them. That some of the cons come from bona fide financial institutions is a concept that to them is simply not credible.

I have no doubt that if the offer of the “Upfront Reward” VISA Platinum card by Universal Savings Bank came across their desks, each of these men would snap it up. Neither man has sufficient patience to do the comparative research necessary to determine whether the deal is a good one.

The problem is based on something deeper. Both of these men, and others like them, spent their early years and most of their adult lives in an America that was far more honest and straightforward than the society in which we are now living. People who ordered items advertised in the back pages of comic books and some magazines knew they were dealing with shady merchants. They sent off their orders with the understanding that they might not receive the item as it was depicted in the ad. Not all banks and large corporations were completely trustworthy, but for the average citizen it was reasonably safe to buy a Chevrolet or a Frigidaire, and to do business with an American financial institution. The free toaster offered by a bank was simply what it was called; a ‘free gift’. These people remember when it took a call of no more than three minutes to cancel a subscription.

This was before the US became a society where people have to examine every bill that comes in for opt-outs and ‘value-added’ upgrades and services that companies slip into the bill that add to the charge. After a purchase people were not harassed by repeated calls offering additional services, as my mother recently was after buying her first PC, a Dell notebook. In her frustration she called me from the other side of the country to ask what she had to do to make them stop bothering her.

My two dear old men are anchored in a world that has largely disappeared. At some level they must realise that the values they depended on during the first forty years of their lives are no longer operating in many present day American institutions. They don’t want to accept that now they have to be as careful when dealing with banks and lending institutions as they once had to be when they ordered a body-building kit from the back pages of a Marvel Comic. When they order tawdry jewellery, believing that the item will be of some reasonable quality because it is being sold through a national financial institution, and when they open spam, convincing themselves that reading something sent to their in-box by some stranger is harmless because it comes through their ISP, they are seeing what they want to see. These are the sort of people who would believe that they are being offered a good deal when they sign on for the “Upfront Reward” VISA Platinum card by Universal Savings Bank and receive a ‘free’ Dell notebook.

Recently I got into an argument with my friend over interest rates that credit cards are permitted to charge customers. He claimed that rates of 29% are illegal under usury laws. I got on the Web and showed him that the safeguards that once protected Americans from usury and other extreme tactics by credit card institutions are gone. Interest rates of 29% are common. This man, a conservative Republican of the old school, was shocked. He hadn’t realised how far corporate depredation had been allowed to go. It isn’t as if there haven’t been articles in the newspapers, and specials on PBS. He is seventy-six, and he doesn’t want to see the world he cherishes collapsing around him.

What many people don’t understand is that this isn’t 1976, with the protections of those earlier times. It is 2006, and times have changed.

Other people who fall for this scam and others like it are younger people, under-educated na

fs, many of them intelligent and hard-working.

People who sign on for the “Upfront Reward” VISA Platinum card by Universal Savings Bank will discover that they have far less protection under the law from predatory tactics than they believed.

Kind regards,

Eilidh M.”

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