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Book Review: Scammed by Christopher Elliott

Scammed [3] is a book that will teach you two things:

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 [4] 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. 🙂