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Book Review: Scammed by Christopher Elliott

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ScammedScammed is a book that will teach you two things:

  • Educate you on the “scams” and “Scams” of the world,
  • Teach you how to get better service and better deals.

According to author Christopher Elliott, a consumer advocate, lowercase scams are those scams that are obvious to the naked eye once you cut through the deception. Someone panhandling for money with a sob story about how they ran out of gas is a lowercase scam. A guy in a Santa suit outside the mall with no actual charitable affiliation is a lowercase scam. Uppercase Scams are those that are just ripoffs but 100% legal. He calls gift cards scams (I hate gift cards so I’m inclined to agree) and fake going out of business sales (my personal favorite is when they call it “going out (for) your business” sales) uppercase Scams.

While those seem “obvious,” Elliott goes into greater detail into some of the more subtle ways businesses manipulate consumers and the environment to get the result they want. Here’s one that I’m sure you’re familiar with – the Walled Garden. If you have an iPhone, you live in a walled garden. You want an app? You have to get it through the Appstore, where Apple gets a cut. If you don’t want to pay an exorbitant amount for the unit itself, sign up for a two year contract with one of their partner carriers. Walled Gardens limit choice and flexibility, two of a consumer’s most valuable weapons.

The fun part about this book is learning about the different things businesses do to alter the world around us. There is an anecdote in the book about when Elliott did consulting for a hotel chain and they paid for part of it with a lifetime frequent-guest membership and half a million points. He said he lived like a king, getting great upgrades and free stuff, but felt bad for “regular” folks who weren’t quite so lucky. It’s in the chapter titled The Price of Loyalty.

Overall, I thought the book was entertaining but I just got the feel that everything seemed so jaded and cynical. I think it’s educational for someone to understand all the tactics and techniques but I was left feeling overanalytical about things. It’s like his story about getting half a million points and all these perks – his thought was focused on how he didn’t get that the other times he stayed at a hotel despite being available. Book definitely had great information but it left me feeling bitter. :)

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9 Responses to “Book Review: Scammed by Christopher Elliott”

  1. Glenn Lasher says:

    This Christmas has led me to think about what a bad idea gift cards are. I received three iTunes gift cards that I can’t use because I use Linux only (not compatible with iTunes) and don’t buy DRM-encumbered media where DRM-free media are available (e.g. Amazon). Now I need to figure out how to extract value from them.

  2. David12031 says:

    Wow, the article title made me do a double take…Scammed by Christopher Elliott. I think that a more appropriate title should be… “Scammed”, a book by Christopher Elliott. Otherwise the original tile could cause some initial confusion on reputation. Just thought that I would put in my opinion.

    Thanks for the time and for having a great blog.

    David12031

  3. Ed says:

    The walled garden is an interesting concept and your analogy of Apple equally so. The problem is that Apple isn’t using it to sell an inferior product. Being open sourced hasn’t equaled the best. The comparison of Windows and an automobile and that there should be a lemon law for Microsoft is a truism (A self-evident truth). Who is really being scammed in that case? This from someone with experience in both worlds.

  4. Donald Schoenstein says:

    With this book in one hand, and Google in the other, the nice people of the world may have a chance. I’ve been doing research on a charity I want to help with, then I found information online that was negative but ‘hidden’ from sight charity trustees in their report through technical means because it is an embarrassment. It had to do with a person taking money from within the charity, but it wasn’t the charity itself doing the cheating (its a good charity) – it was in effect a ‘diminution’ of the act by the trustees. So what would that be called?

  5. Donald Schoenstein says:

    I really don’t understand why people bilk charities for personal gain; it was really shocking to me when I read about Brian Mullaney . He was paid $1,444,571 by Smile Train. It’s absurd these guys are paid for ‘charity work’.


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