Friday, July 28, 2006

If You Ain’t Bein’ Scammed, You May Be…

As a Helper I admit that I can be very naive. There have been many times when I have been the victim of a scam and I didn’t realize it until well after I had been “had.” Of course, there have been other times when someone has scammed me and I have been aware of what was going on from the beginning and just let it happen. And then, of course, there have been times when I have suspected a scam—rightly or wrongly—and backed off.

In many ways scamming and being scammed is just like other “game people play.” Eric Berne, the founder of Transactional Analysis, described all of those socially dysfunctional behavior patterns we people evince in terms of the "games" that we play. By their very nature, games are essentially devious, toxic and sometimes lethal methods of obtaining strokes, the term Berne used to describe our need for human contact and recognition: just as we require food, air, and water to physically survive, we also require interaction with other people and their recognition of our existence to survive. So we play games with other people, such as these games (Berne’s tags) Why Don’t You; Yes, But; If It Weren’t for You; I’ve Got You Now, You Son-of-a-Bitch, and—my favorite—I am Only Trying to Help You.

Each game can be broken down into its parts, which begins when the initiating player chooses his/her mark, the person with whom the game initiator wants to play. Then we move into:

gimmick - the gimmick is some kind of weakness in the mark
hook - the gimmick is used by the game-player to hook the unsuspecting mark
switch - the switch is pulled when the game-player uses some phrase which changes the direction of the transaction, hooking the mark
crossup - at the point when the switch is pulled, the crossup occurs, i.e. the confusion felt by the mark at having been hooked
payoff - the payoff is when the game-player enjoys having scored a point (his/her payoff) and the mark feels inferior (his/her payoff)

I have come to realize that scamming and being scammed is just like playing these games that Berne descrived. The only difference is, rather than the payoff being psychological for us game players, with a scam the payoff is usually more tangible—money or some material reward.

I wrote above that there have been times when someone has scammed me and I have been aware of what was going on from the beginning and just let it happen. Most of the scams C. pulled on me were like that. I knew she was scamming me, but for some reason allowed the game to be played out to the final payoff.

One of the scams she frequently used would begin with this hook: “Nick, if you don’t help me ______________, then I’ll have to go see _____________ (the cocaine-snorting lawyer that lives a few blocks from me who was one of her “regulars” when she was a stripper) and he’ll want me to stay the night.” C’s prostituting—even her threats to prostitute—usually hooked me. (Perhaps that was because I spent most my 30-year marriage as a cuckold). I finally got to the point when I tired of C’s scams and decided to ignore the hooks she offered; so when she could no longer hook me, she sought some other dude to scam.

Of course, I am not always aware of when I am being scammed, just as I am not always aware of the gimmick within me that responds to being hooked into one of the psychological games that Berne describes. Many times I play the game all the way to the payoff, when I realize what has happened and say to myself, “Oh, Shit! I did it again.”

For example, a few years ago an acquaintance called me to help—there’s that word again—him move into a new apartment. He told me that several of his friends were coming by to assist in the moving. So I went by, too—only to find that I was the only “friend” there. It seems that it wasn’t my help he needed as much as my Honda CR-V to transport his stuff. Had he been honest and said that’s what he needed, I still would have helped. However, he decided to scam me with reference to imaginary friends. Well, he got moved and I got the latch of the rear window of my CR-V broken when he forced the window closed on a mattress that really was too large to fit into my little Honda.

I have experienced quite a bit of game-playing and scamming through the years. And I have learned a lot about it. Many years ago, during a seminar for social work supervisors entitled Games Supervisors Play, the leaders presented us with a list of games supervisors play and asked us which ones we played. After what seemed like too long of a silence, one of my peers said, “Do you want to know which games we play—or which games we play well?” That could have been my response!

We insurance agents are regularly given “leads” to follow—telephone or visit. I believe this whole “lead” thing is a homogonous scam from beginning to end. Some company sells the leads to the insurance company, claiming that these people have requested, during a telephone interview or questionnaire on a website, information about insurance. The insurance company gives the leads to its agents, who make contact with the prospect—which is rather like panning for gold.

It has been my experience in making these contacts that the majority of people respond that they have not requested information regarding purchasing insurance. Of, if they have, the request was made many months in the past. With the leads not panning out as expected, most agents—include me in that group—begin using prospecting techniques.

In selling insurance, just as with everything else I’ve done in my life, I am doing my best to learn as much as possible about the job. So I’m reading books, subscribing to newsgroups, etc. The last book on the subject that I read is entitled How to Sell Anything to Anybody by Joe Girard. One of the techniques to line up prospects Girard describes requires only a telephone book and a telephone. The salesperson the picks a name—any times—and telephones. Here, from the book, is what takes place:

Now a woman answers the phone. “Hello, Mrs. Kowalski. This is Joe Girard at Merollis Chevrolet. I just wanted to let you know that the car you ordered is ready,” I tell her. Now remember: This is a cold call, and all I know for sure from the phone book is the party’s name, address, and phone number. This Mrs. Kowalski doesn’t know what I am talking about. “I’m afraid you have the wrong number. We haven’t ordered a new car,” she says. “Are you sure?” I ask. “Pretty sure. My husband would have told me,” she says. “Just a minute,” I say. “Is this the home of Clarence F. Kowalski?” “No. My husband’s name is Steven.” I write it down, though of course I know it because it says so right there in the phone book. “Gee, Mrs. Kowalski, I am very sorry to have disturbed you at this time of the day. I’m sure you’re very busy.” Maybe she says that its no trouble at all or wants to tell me that she just got back from the supermarket. Whatever it is I don’t let her hang up yet.

I want to keep her on the phone because I’m not done, and maybe she has no one to talk to so she doesn’t hang up. “Mrs. Kowalski, you don’t happen to be in the market for a new car, do you?” If she knows they are, she’ll probably say yes. But the typical answer will be: “I don’t think we are, but you’d have to ask my husband.” There it is, what I’m looking for. “Oh, when can I reach him?” And she’ll say, “He’s usually home by six.” OK, I’ve got what I wanted. “Well, fine, Mrs. Kowalski, I’ll call back then, if you’re sure I won’t be interrupting supper.” I wait for her to tell me they don’t eat until about six-thirty, and then I thank her.

You know what I am going to be doing at six o’clock. That’s right. “Hello, Mr. Kowalski, this is Joe Girard at Merollis Chevrolet. I spoke to Mrs. Kowalski this morning and she suggested I call back at this time. I was wondering of you’re in the market for a new Chevrolet?” “No,” he says, “not just yet.” So I ask, “Well, when do you think you mioght be looking for a new car?” I ask that question straight out, and he is going to think about it and give me an answer. Maybe he only wants to get rid of me. But whatever the reason, what he says is probably going to be what he means. It’s easier than trying to dream up a lie. ”I guess I’ll be needing one in about six months,” he says, and I finish with. “Fine, Mr. Kowalski, I’ll be getting in touch with you then. Oh, what are you drving now?” He tells me, I thank him, and hang up.

Girard goes on to write that he’ll contact the Kowalski family again in five months, remind them of their conversation, and maybe sell them a new car.

A game? A scam? I’m sure a sales person will say its “just a selling technique.” However, from my viewpoint it has all the characteristics of a game which has all of the characteristics of s scam.

Does it work? Yes, I can attest that it does because I’ve used this “selling technique” a couple of times in the past week. I sold no insurance, but I did manage to talk to some folks, which is better than usual in following the leads the insurance company purchases.

So I end with what I began in the title of this post: If you ain’t bein’ scammed, you may be… a scammer.


  1. I think i've been a scammer, but not in a bad that possible??!

  2. So your a liar and a churchgoer. Typical.

  3. JD’s ROSE: That’s more than enough! Thank you!

    MICHELLE: The majority of us play games at some level, one way or another, depending upon our family of origin, the games may or may not be lethal. Part of my concern is that our U.S. culture is very much into game playing as a way of life.

    ANONYMOUS: But of course: one of the primary marks of Christianity is that we confess we are sinners. Any denomination that says otherwise teaches heresy.

  4. Interesting information on the "sales techniques" - many have been pulled on me, but they haven't "hooked" me in years. ec

  5. I've always had an odd sort of detached view of my own life, and that protects me somewhat from being scammed. Of course, that also means I sometimes feel like an observer more than a participant.

    It's a shame we've become a society of hustlers. This is what happens when materialism wins over spirituality.

    I think this was one of your better posts, Nick. You really nailed your topic.

    When I worked at MCI, a co-worker once told me, "Everybody here has a knife in each hand and two in their back." I hate to see the whole country becoming that sick and warped.

  6. MREDDIE: One Way to avoid being hooked by a salesperson is to avoid talking with them. If you’ll note what Girard wrote, he kept the conversations going with both Mr. & Mrs. Kowalski until his goals were achieved.

    C’s scams were different. She knew exactly what would hook me: her prostituting and drug addiction. She didn’t need a long conversation; just the threat of either usually got out of me what she wanted.

    THOMAS: When you view the ability to view your own like in a detached manner, you describe one of the goals I seek via meditation: to be able to observe myself and the events around me in a unemotional manner, as if I were watching a play or a movie. I have sometimes achieved that state of being, but not as often as I would like.

    I think we have been a society of hustlers for a very long times, at least since the 1850s. When I read the history of America’s millionaire “Robber Barons”—James Fisk, John Jacob Aster, Jay Cooke, Jay Gould, J. P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford (those are all I can think of off hand), I realize that their scams—and even legal business practices—transformed U.S. society. It was because of them that business became supreme in the U.S., replacing agriculture at the center of the nation’s economy. For better or worse—I rather choose the latter—we are who we are because of them.

    Your comment regarding MCI is exactly why I have never before worked for a business. I detest what I am doing and the manner in which it is done.

  7. Nick, your last comment didn't sound very encouraging; "I detest what I am doing and the manner in which it is done." So with that attitude, why are you selling insurance? If you don't think insurance is of value, why even talk about it?
    I don't think you give enough people credit in the ability to say "no thank you, I'm not interested." It's like you think you hold some power over what they do or choose. No offense, but if people are dumb enough to buy something they don't want, can't afford or don't need, that's their problem. If you suspect they don't know where their next meal is coming from, are you ethically going to sell them a policy or call on them in six months to see if their situation has changed?

    I know you are kind of like the shepherd with your ministry, but this is just insurance, not life or death decisions.

  8. Hi Nick ~~ Very interesting topic.
    And there is value in insurance if a
    disaster befalls people, flood, fire
    etc. But none of us like to think we have been scammed. Unless as you say
    we are aware of it and just want to help. Thanks for your comments,sorry
    the lamb wont reach that far.
    Take care, Merle.

  9. Nick isn't it funny how anonymous people always have something derogatory to say and make themselves out to be pillars of society....pathetic creatures!

  10. PEACH: The answer to your question is simple: I am selling insurance out of desperation. After being unemployed for three years, using up all of my savings, selling off all of my investments and property of value—even my favorite guitar—I took this job to try to survive. The same is true with all of my co-agents: each one was long-term unemployed.

    I, for one, do not force insurance on anyone. For example, I sold more insurance than any of the other agents in the last two weeks—a total of 9 policies which would earn me a commission of about $800.00 if the company ever gets around to processing the applications (my last two weekly pay checks have been about $18.00 and $6.00. But to do so, I worked 14-hour days.

    About two weeks ago the insurance company was approved by the Commonwealth of Kentucky to offer employee benefits to state employees. Since then I have made gotten permission to “be present “—the only way I can explain it, because I am limited to sitting and awaiting employees to come to me— in six state offices, that had a total of about 900 employees. On the first day, with some highway workers—the guys who spend all day out in the hot sun and who had never before had a agent come to their base location at 6:30 a.m. to offer them benefits—I sold 7 of those 9 policies. I also gave away 11 free accidental death policies. At the second office, where there were about 40 social workers, I sat for 4 hours, gave away a bunch of free policies, and sold one cancer police. The third office contained 700 workers and I sold one policy. The final policy I sold to a food stamps worker at an office 80 miles from Louisville where I spent 5 hours: she purchased life insurance on her unemployed husband.

    In the two months that I have been an insurance agent I have received commissions that total (let me check Quicken) $369.23. I receive no salary or benefits; have paid for the classes and licenses out of my own funds; have spent (again let me check Quicken) $374.55 on gasoline. The way I figure it, without subtracting my overhead costs (such as gasoline), I am working for about $0.84 an hour.

    In my “free” time I am moderator of the Kentuckiana Association of the United Church of Christ, which is a non-paid position. It requires anywhere from 6 to 20 hours of work a week, For example, this afternoon, as moderator, I am participating in the installation of a new pastor in one of our churches.

    The baseline is, with three university degrees, in three years of searching, I was unable to find gainful employment. I have substitute taught; invested in a nightclub and a resturaunt (both failed); owned an Internet store; do some private practice counseling; filled the pulpit of several churches who were without pastors; done research for the Commonwealth’s Attorney; etc. None of those earned me enough money to pay my bills.

    Therefore, when this insurance company offered me a position as an independent agent, I took it, learned everything I could about insurance, and am giving it my all until I find work appropriate to my education and experience. I have ethical concerns, not about insurance—I recognize people’s needs for insurance and wish I had been savvy enough to have purchased insurance when I was young enough to do so—but about this insurance company, which I perceive as exploiting its agents.

  11. MERLE: I agree with the value of insurance. At the age of 60, there is very little life or health insurance that I can purchase and none that I can afford to purchase.

    The “scamming” where insurance—any sales—is concerned is getting to make a presentation to the potential client. There is no scamming, so far as I can tell, in the insurance product or the purchase—that’s up to the purchaser, who even has a period after the purchase to look at the insurance policy and turn it down with full refund. Also, an insurance contract, at least by Kentucky law, is written in such a way that the insured can terminate it at any time simply by not paying the premium.

    Therefore, the scam—or marketing technique—comes in when the agent does things such as Girard wrote about in order to see the client and offer the product. And, as you might well guess, it is much easier to sell someone an automobile than it is to sell insurance, which, as you know, most people really don’t want to even think about.

  12. MICHELLE: Yes, people who leave “anonymous” comments are, to me, cowards. I would never write or send anything anonymously.

    I remember an older Roman Catholic priest who befriended me early in my ministry. When he receives a letter that attacks someone—“your parishioner, Jane Doe, is having an affair with John Smith”—he immediately looks to the end of the letter before he continues reading. If it is not signed, he destroys it without reading further. If it is signed, he still doesn’t read the letter but contacts the author and says, “It seems that you have a problem with Jane Doe. I think you need to talk to Jane about that, not me.”

    I have followed his procedure since he explained it to me.

  13. So our girl (she’s getting a bit old to still call her a “girl”) “C” played the same games with you that she plays with all of her “dudes.” Of course, you let her play you much longer than most of the others. Nick, you are truly a saint!

    From what you’ve written, YOU are being scammed by the insurance company. I know you aren’t cut out to be a salesman: you usually give stuff away, not sell it. Stick with your real vocation: serving God.

  14. What abour people who want insurance but can't afford it?

  15. Nick, I apologize if I have offended or upset you. It just seems to me, that the power of your mind is far greater than any circumstances you may encounter. The subconscious mind records everything we say. So if you "detest" selling, then it stands to reason you won't be doing much of it. Do you follow?

    Maybe you could repeat a phrase to yourself daily that says something like "today I will sell a policy." Or something like "God is providing for me daily."

    I know it sounds silly, but it really does work. I think we forget how powerful we are simply by imagining our goals and asking God for help.

  16. Sales people usually don't like me because I'm always looking for there to be a scam. It took me a long time to get past worrying about hurting someone's feelings. But now I have no trouble hanging up on cold sales calls.

    I realize that it makes it more difficult for honest people like you to make a living. But I don't want to be scammed and that's my easiest defense.

    I wish you all the luck in the world getting a ministerial job. This insurance stuff will wear on you. You're too nice a person.

  17. AZSONOFAGUN: Yeah, I did put up her for a long time and still care what happens to her. That doesn’t make me a saint. I just happened to be the one she kept contacting to pull her out of the shit she keeps getting herself into.

    You’re right: I need to get back into ministry full time. The installation of the pastor I did this afternoon reminded me of how much I miss it.

    CELESTE: You ask an excellent question. As one who himself does not have health insurance, I know what it is like to need insurance and not be able to afford it.

    A few weeks ago I met with a mother and daughter to wanted health insurance. I don’t have the type of insurance they want but do have inexpensive policies that will help with costs if they contract a “critical illness” such as cancer. I couldn’t even sell them that because my company accepts only automatic bank withdrawals for policies where the client wants to pay monthly. They, like the majority of the disenfranchised sub-proletariat, have no bank accounts and can’t get them.

    So I switched hats from insurance agent to social worker and help them get appointments with the state agency that could help with medical bills.

    PEACH: There is no need to apologize. I learn more from critical responses than from “Good sermon” comments. Yes. I do detest selling—I detest just about everything having to do with capitalism. Yet I am selling more insurance than any of the other three agents who remain in the Kentucky office. That’s because, as in all I have done, I am learning everything I can about selling insurance and putting in the 20-14 hour days that it takes.

    What bothers me, besides the push for leads and the pitches to potential clients, is not being paid for my work. From what I can figure, the insurance company owes me between $800 and $1100 for past commissions. The same is true of the other three agents. Remember: this company has invested nothing in any of us. We even gave the insurance company the $40.00 fee the company is supposed to pay the insurance commission for our bonds.

    I am angry, since I have been in the process of joining this company since February 15th. I’m tired of working for less than a dollar an hour. Since this company opened in Kentucky last year, seven agents have left. Hell, we aren’t even employees: the contract says we are “independent agencies.” I may be the eighth—unless one of my peers leaves first.

    SQUIRL: Good for you! Hanging up on unwanted telemarketers is the best thing you can do: it save wasting your time—and theirs.

    I wish people would hang up on me rather than playing me out when they really have no interest in insurance. Then I can call someone else. I have one woman who has set five appointments to talk to me about life insurance. Before each one, she telephones me with some excuse why she can’t make the appointment and tells me the date and time to call her back to set a new appointment. After the last time, I asked her to telephone ME when she has the time available.

    I could probably get a job pastoring tomorrow if I were willing to relocate to some ungodly place such as Michigan’s Upper Peninsula!

  18. Yep, you let "C" scam you much longer than I did. I was happy every time she left Tucson for Kentucky.

    Forget sales. It is not for you. Your heart is too soft. Take that from a guy who has been a salesman all of his life.

  19. Maybe we are all a little of both- detesting being scammed, but manipulative enough to scam another when need be.

    Never thought of it that way, Nick. An excellent example of the plank & the speck- of course, there are varying degrees...

    starting with the pout:)