Dissecting a scamster

Photo by Clark Street Mercantile

Have I edited this post enough? Are there any mistakes that I’ve overlooked? Let me go through it just once more. God forbid, I should leave some stupid mistake in and make myself the laughing stock for everyone!

Should I raise my hand to ask the professor to clarify? Is it just me who hasn’t understood this? Maybe I should just listen to him for a few more minutes and it will be clear.

Is this the best phone in the market? Am I squeezing the most value out of what I’m paying for it? Should I read a few more reviews just to be sure? What if I buy it and find out later that there’s a better phone?

Should I take up that job at that other company? Do I know enough about the way things work there? I have talked to the people in the team I’m hired for, should I talk to some people outside the team, just in case? Just to get all opinions?

This is what goes on in most of our heads. Indecision is the norm. Which is why being decisive is a sought after trait. Because it is rare. Very few people are decisive and go ahead and act quick and not get tangled up in these questions unless they are forced to. Leaders are expected to be decisive for this very reason. The horde of people behind them are looking up to them to guide them out of their indecision.

And the amount of content out there that is accessible at the tap of a button is not helping it. There is always one more article that we can read before we are convinced to act. And this is a behavioural trait that can be exploited.

Using Ola share, my co-passenger today was a man from Delhi who started a conversation that made me want to laugh out loud several times, but deciding that I ought to be polite to a stranger, I held my emotions and listened patiently.

When selling to a stranger, the first step is always to establish credibility. So, the moment I entered the cab, our man introduced himself and said that he works as an IT consultant and leads a team of a hundred and fifty engineers and that he is responsible for not just the technical deliverables but also the revenue and business deliverables. While this was meant to establish his credibility, it was an immediate red flag for me. Someone who goes to the trouble of saying what his responsibilities are and how many people report to him without being asked and yet fails to name the company that he works for, ought to throw a red flag. Since this was still only the first sentence that he had spoken, I decided to test the validity of the red flag and asked him where he worked. And he held aloft the red flag by responding that he used to work in Delhi before and now works in Bangalore as an IT consultant (no mention of a company name second time around either).

Then, he went into a monologue about how it is important for everyone to be healthy and wealthy and wise and how he worked for sixty hours a week and slept for a fifty six and socialised with people and family for sixteen and worked out (he mentioned this included physical and mental and spiritual exercise) for seven. And how this still left him with twenty to thirty hours of time to earn a passive income that will enable him to retire early. By passive income, he meant money that would come his way even if he took a vacation or was bedridden or in any other way incapable of turning up to his day job as an “IT consultant”.

At this point, I was hoping he’d say what the source of this passive income was, but he went into another monologue about “his program” that he ran with a few “partners” who were also hard working “IT professionals” like him who wanted to retire early. After ten minutes of him repeating this sentence in round about ways, I asked him why he didn’t spend all his sixty plus the twenty to thirty hours earning this “passive income”, and he quietly deflected the question by saying each was free to choose the amount of time they spent as part of “the program” and this is how much he chose to spend. Every sentence in these ten minutes was a red flag of it’s own, and by now, my mind had stopped looking for red flags and was busy instructing my brain to roll my eyes. I was rolling my eyes so much that I was afraid they’d turn a hundred and eighty degrees. I half hoped looking at only the whites of my eyes would have stopped him, but I couldn’t be sure.

Anyway, he went on to describe “the program” that was called healthy, wealthy and wise. Anyone signing up would get CDs with lectures loaded on them. This is the “wise” part. They sell organic this and organic that and possibly some workout equipment like those weight reduction belts shown on telesales channels. This is the “healthy” part. And anyone wanting to be part of the program pays some money, part of which goes to the one who signs them up. This is the passive income and the “welathy” part. Or as I’d like to call it, the scam part.

He went on to quote examples of the friends he had signed up, and just as he was about to ask me to sign up, I asked him “Why would you do this to your friends?” with a serious look on my face. The fifteen minute silence that followed till I got off was the most awkward silence, and I’ve been part of several awkward silences.

Obviously, such things work. People get scammed day in and day out. A little vigilance in identifying red flags helps.

But, the underlying behaviour is what interests me. It is possible to perpetrate such a scam simply because a lot of people are indecisive and are looking for people to tell them the steps to follow to success. Oh yes, that reminds me. “Success” was another word he repeated several times in the conversation monologue.

We consume more than enough. We have enough information to act. It’s just that we need to go ahead and do it. As William Faulkner once answered when asked if he wrote on inspiration or on a schedule, “Well, of course I write on inspiration. Fortunately, it strikes every morning at a quarter past nine.”

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