!!!Things That REALLY Piss Me Off
One Ringy Dingy 
(…or in the case of e-mails, one “ding”) 
 The last chapter was admittedly a bit on the heavy side, but now we’ll turn back to some lighter fare….you know, stuff that will piss you off but not motivate you to go out and buy a gun to help rectify it. This chapter isn’t just about annoying phone calls or spam e-mail as the chapter name might seem to indicate. It’s also about other annoying and often intrusive communications received from a variety sources nearly all of which are unsolicited and trying desperately to get me to part with my money. Is there anyone among us who does not on a regular basis remove from their mail box a rather large quantity of totally useless, unsolicited, third class mail whose combined weight is nearly that of the mail truck that delivered it? If you answered “yes”, then either you don’t own a mail box or you’re dead, although being dead doesn’t necessarily disqualify you from receiving a seemingly endless flow of junk mail! My Mother died in 2007, but her credit must still be good because she still receives the occasional piece of mail offering great introductory credit card rates or a free dinner to listen to some financial wizard’s investment spiel. (And, yes, that’s for real!)

For those of you who may not know it, there is a very large (and I mean very large!) group of very smart (and again I mean very smart) people out there who direct all of their energy and tech savvy at prying your money from your wallet. Some are legitimate enterprises, but others are much more sinister in their motives and more dedicated in their efforts than you could possibly imagine. Those in the latter category will stop at nothing to get at your money, and once they have it they disappear into the night as quickly as a fart on a breezy night.

Let’s begin with the mainly legitimate enterprises. One of my favorite examples of the latter is the invitation we’ve all received from some totally unknown financial advisor who is inviting me to a free dinner at a really upscale local restaurant in exchange for me listening to why I should turn over my hard earned retirement money to him and his (or her) company to manage. Keep in mind that I get what is essentially the same letter every few weeks from a variety of financial management firms many of whom have of late decided to call themselves “wealth management” firms. (Now isn’t that much more impressive than simply “financial management”?)

And that brings to mind another ploy (or deception) of sorts that I just can’t let pass without offering a few words of comment. What I’m talking about is the term “wealth management” and other similar terms. “Wealth management” isn’t a casual creation that just magically popped into someone’s mind out of nowhere. I’d be willing to bet the farm (your farm!) that it was the product of some Madison Avenue genius commissioned by one of the major wealth management firms and who spent a fair amount of time coming up with the perfect terminology. I say “genius” because those two words, wealth management, convey so many positive images and meanings, both individually and combined, that I would imagine it’s almost impossible for many people to resist being sucked in by it.   

What were some of the other options, you might ask? Well, I always thought the old and tried term “financial management” was a good one, but apparently there are some who didn’t agree with me on that one. Another term I think tells the story well is, “financial planning”….perhaps not quite as forcefully as “financial management”, but none the less still a good one. Though more than just adequate, the word “planning” makes it sounds as if they really thought about it and looked well into the future before they decided where to invest your money, but once those initial steps were taken the term “planning” makes it sound as if you did nothing further other than sit around waiting to see what would happen. But the term “management”….well, that’s a whole other story. “Management” is an active word that makes it sound as if that “manager” spends every waking moment of his life researching, directing and nuancing each and every dollar in your portfolio. There’s no question that “management” beats out “planning” by a mile. 

But let’s not just leave it there because there still remain other viable options. For example, how about “Poverty Management” or even “Helter Skelter Investing” neither of which, for whatever, reason, seem to have caught on, and I’ll tell you why. It’s because people aspire to wealth rather than poverty, and that in a nutshell is why those terms didn’t catch on and why “wealth management” has become so popular among (you should pardon the expression) financial planning companies. But be forewarned, despite the recent ascendancy of this new term to great popularity, there are no guarantees that a few years (or quite possibly even a few days) from now you won’t be the proud owner of a “wealth management” account that has a grand balance of $4.23. Regardless of what they call it, the risks are the same, and a change of name can’t guarantee that “wealth management” will end up any better or worse than “financial planning” or, for that matter, “Poverty Management!

Just as an aside (I know…yet another one!), I deal with three brokerage firms. One has the word “investments” in its name, and the other two just use their own names without any further description. None of them use the words “management”, “planning or “wealth””. Hmm….should I be concerned?
  
So with the wealth management issue out of the way, let’s get back to our original discussion. All this subterfuge raises a very legitimate question about the people who are targeted by both legitimate financial advisors and investment brokerage firms and their not quite so legitimate counterparts who will stop at nothing to turn a buck….your buck! Are there really that many people stupid enough to give their life’s savings to some guy they’ve never met before simply because the guy bought them dinner? I guess the answer must be a resounding “yes” or why else would they continue to hold these expensive dinners?

So I got to thinking about turning the tables on them. What do you think would happen if I thumbed through the yellow pages under “Financial Management” or “Wealth Management” or maybe “Financial Advisors” and randomly selected a few names of companies or people I didn’t know and whom I would then call and ask one simple question? Yeah, I know it’s a bit ballsy, but this is how I expect the conversation would probably go down.

“Hi, who am I speaking with?” (Slight pause for the response.) “Well, Ralph, my name is Lou Shapiro. You don’t know me, but my wife blindfolded me, and I randomly picked your name out of the Yellow Pages. Don’t you just love the yellow pages, Ralph? Anyway, I was wondering if you’d take me and the missus out to dinner to a really expensive restaurant if I considered” (and that’s a real important word because it stops short of making a definitive commitment) “moving my retirement account to your firm? Oh, and I almost forgot. Would you mind if I brought along a few friends and some cousins who happen to be in town visiting from Camden, NJ? Hello, Ralph….Ralph….you still there?” 

What do you think Ralph’s reaction would really be? Would he hang up thinking I’m some sort of crackpot, or would he injure himself jumping at the opportunity and then rush to get the fine linens and crystal stemware ready? Based on the number of wealth management seminar invitations I receive in the mail each month, I’d have to lean toward the side of the linens and stemware! By the way, the restaurants which typically serve as the venues for these dinners are top drawer and expensive which in itself gives you a pretty good indication of the level of success they have in getting new clients from these dinners as well as the level of profit anticipated.

Time has proven the age old adage that there are some people who have no shame and will do just about anything to turn a buck. There also appears to be a long line of very gullible people waiting by their phones to be contacted so that they can fork over their hard earned money. One of my favorites is a company who calls themselves “Credit Card Services” and who run one of the biggest telephone scams in operation. For more than two years I have received calls, sometimes as many as four a day, which my cell phone caller ID identifies simply by the area code, state and city of the call’s origin. Idaho, Georgia, Washington, Arizona, Montana and Wyoming are just a few of the states that come up on my caller ID from Credit Card Services. I should also tell you that I don’t have a whole lot of friends or relatives in those states….like none, zip, zero, so the caller ID is a dead giveaway as to who is almost certainly calling. They apparently have software that enables them to use any area code they choose (real or not), and as of late they’ve come up with a new wrinkle. Now when they call, a number with my area code comes up on the caller ID which could make me think it may actually be someone I know. Clever crooks!

When I do answer there’s a recording telling me my credit is fine but that I should stay on the line to talk with an operator about getting a drastically reduced interest rate on my credit balance. Every so often, just for kicks, I’ll wait to be connected to an operator. Most of the time an operator never picks up, which in itself leaves me scratching my head because why bother even calling in the first place if you’re not going to engage your “mark”? But on a few occasions I actually got to talk with a real human being (at least it sounded human!). In those instances I asked to be removed from their call list, and that was always greeted with a quick click followed by a dial tone. In other words, they hung up, and whenever I have tried calling back, I always got a Verizon recording telling me that the number was no longer in service. That was so disappointing because I had no one to yell at!

The same thing happens on line. How many junk e-mails do you receive daily that are trying to sell you some product or service? Those e-mails typically have no “unsubscribe” button, and if you’ve ever tried to e-mail them back to ask them to remove your name from their list or simply to tell them to go to hell, almost without exception you’ll receive another e-mail back in short order telling you that your e-mail was “undeliverable”. So like the telephone Credit Card Services example above, E.T. can call home (or you), but you can’t call him back. This was exactly what “Do Not Call” was supposed to take care of, and for five years or so years it did just that and did it fairly well. But during the past few years it seems as if “Do Not Call” has lost its effectiveness and is largely ignored, especially by scam artists who simply ignore any laws that impede their ability to scam. (Knowing Congress, it wouldn’t really surprise to me that Credit Card Services made large donations to the reelection campaigns of several congressmen in exchange for being excluded from the “Do Not Call” legislation!

One of the things I don’t understand about telephone and e-mail scams is how the general public can be so stupid and naïve in responding to these scammers. I mean would you invest $10,000 in the diamond market based on a single telephone conversation with some guy you never heard of until five minutes ago? I’ve actually had two such calls over the years, and I guess some people do respond positively or why else would they continue to make the calls? Or how about the internet scam which just about everyone with internet service has seen at one time or another. That’s when you get a desperate e-mail from one of your friends who is supposedly stranded in Europe after having had his wallet and passport stolen, and he’s e-mailing you pleading for an internet transfer of a few thousand bucks which, of course, he’ll pay back as soon as he gets back home. Apparently this scam works a lot more often that you may think, so I guess there are a good number of people out there who actually are more stupid than we give them credit for!

At first glance it may seem that we’re all fair game for these unscrupulous scammers and that there is no way we can strike back. But as they teach in cat skinning school, there’s usually more than just one way to remove a cat’s “coat”, and this situation is no different. One approach, which I can make happen in an instant because of my super powers, would be to have all phones and computers designed and engineered in such a way that would not allow a caller or e-mailer the option of blocking your return communication. In other words, when you made a return phone call to a scammer or sent them a return e-mail, there would be absolutely no way they would be able to block your communication. What’s unfair about that? If they have the right to call me, shouldn’t I have the same right to call them? When you try to return a spam phone call now, what you usually get is either a busy signal or a phone company message telling you that number is no longer in service, and with e-mails you invariably get back a message informing you that the e-mail you just sent is “undeliverable”. But with my new system that won’t happen anymore. Not only will you be able to call back or e-mail these annoying crooks, you will also be able to enlist the help of family and friends to deluge the scammers with a ton of phone calls so that they can see what it’s like to be on the receiving end.

​And as for spam e-mailers, you’ll be able to send them as many e-mails as you like without fear of them being blocked. In fact, if you like, you will be able to initiate an automated response which will direct thousands of unwanted spam e-mails to the spammer’s e-mail address thereby creating havoc with the offending e-mailer’s system. Now that’s what I call justice! In the case of phone calls, and to compensate you for the inconvenience caused by the offender, you’ll be able to call them and go on a twenty minute harangue and they won’t be able to hang up on you. Now that’s what I call real justice…and eye for an eye….an ear for an ear!

​To show you just how out of touch most elected officials are, here’s a perfect opportunity for some ambitious congressman to get some real brownie points with his voting base and, in the process, just about insure his reelection for life. Can you imagine how popular a congressman would make himself by championing legislation that would lead to the elimination of phone and e-mail spamming? A smart congressman (Oops! Another oxymoron!) would probably push his approval numbers into triple digits by sponsoring legislation not only prohibiting this type of intrusive activity, but also providing substantive punishment for violations in the form of big fines and long jail sentences that would make the punishment handed out to murderers and long time drug dealers look like a slap on the wrist. I’m getting excited just thinking about it! 

Before I wrap up this chapter, permit me to offer one more passing thought. Many years ago (probably in the 1970s) there was a popular song called “We Live in Two Different Worlds” sung by a then very popular singer named Engelbert Humperdink (and, no I didn’t make the name up. It’s a real name!) I can’t say for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that song was written specifically for Congress because they certainly don’t live in my world or yours. Over the years Congress has evolved what you could call a schizophrenic approach to passing legislation. I call it that because it’s essentially a two faced approach in which Congress makes rules and laws for the rest of the country and then includes in that legislation language that exempts members of Congress from those laws and in the process gives them a better deal. (No grass growing under their feet!)

​There are several great examples of what I’m referring to here, but the very first one to come to mind is Congress’s self-imposed exemption to the “Do not call” law. Although it’s supposed to be illegal for telemarketers to call you if you’re on the “Do not call” registry, it is okay for any political party, political campaign or pollsters to call you when you’re in the middle of dinner, on the toilet or trimming your nose hair. Why? Because Congress exempted themselves, the two main political parties and pollsters from the law, that’s why! According to congressional thinking (another oxymoron!), it’s in bad taste for telemarketers to bother you in your home, but it’s okay for your elected officials to violate the sanctity and privacy of your home by calling regularly so that they can pry into your personal political views and encourage you to vote for one candidate or another or ask who you plan on voting for so that they can produce poll numbers and enhance their chances for reelection. 

As great as the internet, cell phones, computer databases and all other sorts of “new” technology might be both for work and at home, with it comes a whole lot of heavy baggage which no one ever anticipated. The baggage I refer to are things such as the ability of any number of people, many with dastardly motives and no scruples, to effectively break into our homes and lives with less effort than it takes to convince a politician to speak. If you’re lucky, these intrusions are just an aggravating but inconsequential inconvenience, but for those less fortunate the most intimate parts of their private lives can be made public and identities stolen as easily as a senior citizen can stuff a few packets of Sweet and Low in his coat pocket. This is no laughing matter, and I think it is safe to say that this situation will only continue to get worse in the coming years as some of the best technical minds of the world continue to come up with new and better ways to make money by invading our privacy.  

This is one of those things that is considered to be “unfortunate” and almost immediately forgotten when it happens to someone else, but when it happens to you (or even worse, me!) it becomes an “unspeakable tragedy” which the law needs to do something about immediately! But not to worry. Just have your Congressman add it to Congress’s to do list. They’ll take care of it right after they pass a budget on time! 

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