**Don’t be misled by the featured photo, this post is NOT about children. It is, however, about learning how to open and close doors – at any age.**
The other day, after ordering a $5 photobook (for new customers) of my favorite pictures from our Havasupai trip, the internet offered me $2 magazine subscriptions. Say what?! Now I know I had just ordered a $5 photobook, which surprisingly actually turned out to be $5, but what was the catch with these magazine subscriptions?
I’ve been scammed on magazines before. In a pretty bad way. In fact, I’ve never talked about it with anyone – other than my husband who was part of the whole mess with me – because I was that embarrassed by it. But isn’t it important for us to acknowledge our mistakes so that others can learn from them? And maybe, just maybe, to remind everyone of the importance of being able to say “No” without equivocating.
But isn’t it important for us to acknowledge our mistakes so that others can learn from them? And maybe, just maybe, to remind everyone of the importance of being able to say “No” without equivocating.
Craig and I were in our early 20’s when we moved from Ohio to Arizona. We had $3,000 in savings, and $0 left after the first week. We had planned on living with my sister until we were able to find employment and establish ourselves, but our dogs disagreed with that plan – neither of them was willing to give up their position as the alpha dog. Without jobs or paycheck stubs to prove to any landlords that we were responsible, financially stable tenants, we had to pay a hefty security deposit. Additionally, we had foolishly given away most of our belongings in Ohio assuming that we would find a booming job market and quick employment much like my sister had done several years before us.
Unfortunately, we arrived in Arizona in January 2008. The Great Recession had literally just begun. And it hit us pretty hard. Our second month’s rent payment was courtesy of one of our credit cards that had sent us a few much welcomed 12-month 0% APR checks to use.
Luckily, my husband found a job as a bartender within the first month or so, but 3 months later, I was still without a job. I had a bachelor’s degree plus 2 years of accounting and management experience in Ohio. But no one seemed to care about that. My sister tried to help me get a job in the banking industry where she worked, but they were experiencing a major influx of ex-realtors who had lost their jobs in the housing bubble collapse. So I spent my days searching and applying for jobs that I didn’t want and playing guitar hero. I got really good at guitar hero.
One evening, a boisterous young man knocked on our door. I’m not sure why we even opened the door – maybe because we had never been scammed before. The man told us a funny joke and then a more sobering story about his life and how he was trying to improve his life by selling magazines. We liked him. We wanted to help him. But, we also knew that we literally had no money to buy magazines. We were still occasionally using credit cards for groceries and gas. So we told the nice man our situation and that we regrettably couldn’t help him.
“What if you could help me without spending any money?” he asked.
And with that, he was in the door and sitting on our couch. My stomach was in knots. I knew this was a bad idea, but somehow I wrote the checks anyhow. Yes, I said checks, as in plural. 2 of them to be exact. This salesman had convinced us to pick out 6 magazines (and for some crazy reason my husband picked ridiculous magazines that we would never read like Game & Fish wtf?) and write 2 big ass checks.
So how exactly did he convince us to do this? Well, he told us that he would be able to turn in the purchase orders which would give him the points or whatever, and then we could just cancel the checks. No big deal.
In my head, I was thinking – is it free to cancel checks? But for some reason, I wasn’t assertive enough to have the man wait while I thought it through or looked it up online (that’s what the internet is for!). I also was trying to reassure myself that I could just figure it all out after he left and somehow fix it if it was wrong.
In total, I think the checks were for $225.
As soon as the man left with our signed checks, we looked up our banking information online. And of course, it is not free to cancel checks, and when we found that out, we decided that we would just contact the company and cancel the magazine orders. At that point, we realized that the man had not left us with any information on the company he worked for or even a receipt!! He was long gone at that point, and there was no way for us to figure out who he was working for or how to contact them.
So we waited. Finally, the company cashed the checks and we had a contact. My husband called first and told the woman who answered the phone exactly what had happened – that we had been scammed by their salesperson. But she deftly turned it around on him and said that he was privy to the scam if he had written the checks with no intention to actually proceed with the order. And we knew she was kind of right. We couldn’t give up though – we desperately needed that money back.
The next day, I called and spoke to the same woman. Instead of claiming that I had been scammed (which I had been – but I knew that she didn’t care about that), I told her a heartbreaking story about getting laid off at my job and how we couldn’t afford the magazines. Of course I didn’t have a job when I wrote those checks either, but that didn’t work for my story. Now, I know that I wasn’t fooling this lady. She even questioned as to whether I was with “the man who called yesterday,” but I played dumb and stayed true to my “I got laid off” story.
In the end, she split the difference with me. We paid $110 for 3 magazines, and the company refunded the other 3 subscriptions. We were embarrassed but grateful. And the monthly magazines that arrived in our mailbox only served as a mean reminder of what had happened – especially since the 3 subscriptions we were given were not ones we even wanted to read!
Eventually, we got on our feet and found good jobs, but it took a couple of years before we were financially solvent again (due to the recession, not the scam itself).
So what lessons can we learn from this? It wasn’t that my husband and I weren’t smart young adults. It wasn’t that we didn’t know about budgeting or finances or the banking system. We even knew to check the Better Business Bureau before making any major purchases – though somehow we didn’t do that in this instance. All of my previous experience and knowledge caused alarm bells to sound off in my head during the entire interaction with this salesperson, and yet, I still went through with it and wrote the checks.
I think it goes back to my lack of assertiveness. Even though I had managerial experience and a college degree, I still lacked the ability to unequivocally say “No.” Instead of listening to my intellect and my gut, I listened to the part of me that said “he’s a nice guy, why shouldn’t we do something to help him?” I wanted to play nice. I wanted to be helpful. And while these are good qualities, they also have to be balanced with helping yourself and looking out for yourself.
I’m not sure what the solution is though. Talking about our mistakes might help others to avoid the same pitfalls, but as a high school teacher, I find that young adults usually need to learn through experience. So do they have to get scammed before they learn to avoid a scam? Let me know what you think in the comments below!
As for the $2 magazine subscriptions that the internet offered me this week, I read the fine print and saw that indeed the first year of the subscription really is $2, but you are also signing up for auto-renewal which will be charged at the regular price. Of course, you can cancel at any time before the auto-renewal in order to avoid the second year fee, but they’re counting on you to forget or to fall in the love with getting the magazine.
A sucker for a good deal and for monthly reading material, I totally ordered 4 magazine subscriptions (and good ones, too!) for $8 total, but at least I selected magazines I wanted and wrote down the company’s contact information so that I can cancel if I so choose!