Consumers Association of Penang

Giving voice to the little people...since 1970

The tricks that conmen use

In the local press you read another report about a new victim of the so-called "magic stone" that will cure all illnessess? You tell yourself you could never fall for a of a scam like that. Maybe not a victim of the "magic stone" scam but what about other types of cons?

Every consumer is a potential victim of unethical selling practices. And you have probably been duped more often than you realise. For example, how about that expensive health supplement that you're taking? Does it contain what it claims and most importantly does it work the wonders that it advertises in the media?

If you are not a pill popper, how about the time you rushed to buy Milo advertised at special low price only to find out that they have all been sold out that very morning and you instead left the supermarket with bags of normal priced groceries which you had not originally intended to buy.

People who plan these schemes get away with them because they take advantage of human desires for health or wealth, to get something-for-nothing or hoping to get a-lot-for-a little.

It starts with the trickster convincing the consumer that he has what the consumer wants. "Want to save money or make more money", "Want to be healthy?" "Want to feel safe?"

He takes advantage of the consumers' lack of knowledge and discourages the consumer from making any comparison or investigation about the product. The trickster is also well prepared to discredit any unflattery comments you make about the product.

The reason why schemers get away with such tricks year after year is because everyone loves a good bargain. But how do you tell the genuine bargain from the con? It helps if you keep the following in mind:

  • What are the facts? Are they really believeable?
  • What are the promises or predictions? Are they reasonable?
  • Is the seller from a reputable company, worthy of your trust?

Let's take a look at some of the common cons that have been going on for years. The fact that the scams are covered under the Consumers Protection Act 1999  is not expected to be a deterrent.

Some of the scams will probably be familiar to you even though you may not have thought of them as scams.

Bait and Switch

The is the advertising of products or services which the advertiser  has no intention of selling at the special price; he hopes instead to sell the more expensive substitute.

For example, the store owner, may advertise a 29 inch TV for  RM2,000 to draw in the customers. The salesperson's job is to persuade the customers to buy a more expensive model.

The free gimmick

The door bell rings and a voice rings out "Congratulations! You have just won...". The mistake you make is to let the sales person in to know more about the prize that you have won. Soon you are going to learn how expensive it can be to "win" that prize.

The fear sell

This is where consumers can fall prey to scare techniques which play on their insecurities.

For example, you are told that if you truly care about the safety of your family you should get your house fogged for a fee. To help the consumer make up his mind, the trickster shows you reports about dengue epidemics and fatalities.

Work at home schemes

Ads promising home employment usually produce profit only for the advertiser from the collection of deposits. Even if the promoter agrees to buy the finished product at a high price, it will do so  provided the finished product is up to his "standards". This may seem a reasonable request unitl you find that your submitted finished products are never ever up to his "standard".
This is not to say that all work at home schemes are cons. But it is advisable not to take part in any if you have to send money to get more information and for materials. Sending in the money is often  as good as saying good bye to it.

Gambling schemes

Chain letter schemes are mathematically unsound, and the majority of participants must lose. Participants are asked to contribute a certain amount of money or items to the first person in a list in the letter. When your name appears at the top of the list, you supposedly will receive lots of money, assuming of course, that everyone stays faithfully with the chain letter and that there are enough people willing to participate.

Health schemes

Although the old-time roadside medicine man with his "magical" snake oil is rarity today, medical quackery remains a problem. It is just more sophisticated today. Many consumers pay huge sums of money for worthless cures for physical ailments.

These health claims range from "special low introductory prices, for losing weight without dieting or exercising, anti-aging lotions, hair-growing tonics and health foods that cure practically every ailment.

Granted that not all answers can be found in mainstream medicines, all the same, traditional herbal medicine may or also may not have the answers that you seek. So do give it a lot of thought before you splash your money on health products.