I—known to my wife as one with a deficiency when searching for something around the house with little aid other than my own two eyes—often kid that my “other” career option was to be a CIA agent. And while I may not possess the innate skills of perception required for a career in espionage, I do occasionally get to act as an investigator on behalf of clients, family and friends. Most recently, I tried to help a friend discern whether a piece of mail she received was intended for her benefit or merely “to sell her something,” or worse.
She received an apparent “2010 Medicare Update,” and as one nearing retirement, why wouldn’t she want an update on how Medicare reforms might impact her? But as I pored over the mailing, I couldn’t determine its originating source. The return address was “National Processing Center,” a name used by the U.S. Census Bureau for their primary information collection center. But as I scanned the entire mailing, I finally found the tell-tale signs of deception disclaiming that this was, “IMPORTANT NON-GOVERNMENTAL” documentation in the guise of official business.
What can we do?? Expect deception. Some of the biggest crooks out there are legal “legitimate” enterprises. So not only do we have to watch out for outright fraud and theft on Craigslist and Ebay, we also have to look for the conflict of interest in every mailing we get from our bank, brokerage firm and insurance company and every pitch we get from their representatives.
While we want to be careful, we don’t want to go through life as a hardened skeptic, so here are a few tips for examining solicitations from the financial industry designed to determine the economic bias—the financial conflict of interest—of the party attempting to sell you something:
- Determine the source of the solicitation. Many companies will cloak a solicitation in a mailing that appears to be something else. You’ll notice that insurance companies don’t sell insurance; they sell “peace-of-mind,” and they’ll often hide what they actually do. THIS particular company is, however, extremely elusive. Its return address goes to “National Processing Center”… and I did some hunting to find out that there is an entity called the “National Processing Center Senior Services” in Durant, OK. Hysterically, the Better Business Bureau gives them an A- even though they list their type of business as “Funeral Related Services”! Complete deception!
- Answer the question “What’s in it for them?” Once you’ve realized that the mailing ISN’T in fact from, in this case, the Federal Government, you can question why THIS company wants to educate you with their “Medicare Update.” In this case, the answer is simple—someone who is interested in a Medicare Update is likely in their target demographic for the products THEY sell.
- If it sounds too good to be true… One of the mainstays in the financial product sales are invitations to “Free” lunch and dinner seminars. If a so-called advisor is buying you and a room full of your peers a steak dinner at Morton’s and picking up the tab, you’d better be ready for a sales pitch that’s coming sooner or later.
- If you believe that solicitation of any kind is downright fraudulent, report it to the Federal Trade Commission. You can access their complaint department by clicking HERE.
Any company that has to deceive you in order to get your business is simply not a reputable enough organization for you to deal with!