Watch out for low-level consumer predators
Water is probably my number one grudge purchase.
I don’t mean the stuff that comes out of the tap.
That’s expensive enough, but the price of the stuff in bottles at the supermarkets and dairies makes me wince.
So imagine my horror when an Auckland-based finance company was fined $77,200 earlier this year for its part in the door-to-door sale of water filters by a company called Love Springs.
Bless their cotton socks – the salespeople of Love Springs (I know, it sounds like a marital aid) were telling people the local water caused cancer, birth defects and miscarriages.
Oh, I knew the hawking of water filters was going on – just like the door-to-door sale of over-priced vacuum cleaners and maths teaching software.
But the number of debt contracts the finance company had issued to people who couldn’t afford to buy the water filters with real money utterly staggered me – 21,523.
And each of those credit contracts was for $1595.
How come so many of us are so receptive to what I think of as low-level consumer predators?
My own conclusion on this is both complex and simple.
Complex because people are complex in their motivations, misconceptions and madnesses and simple because a proportion of people have always bought the wares of the snakeoil salesman and a proportion always will.
And let’s not do the salesmen down. The best of them are as good at identifying gullible souls as a lion is at spotting the weakest wildebeest.
It seems to me that a set of principles can be brought to bear in self-defence.
Principle 1. Never borrow to replace a necessity with a luxury.
Principle 2. Never prepay for luxuries. (Timeshares are the best example of this. You are effectively pre- buying holidays which makes no sense.)
Principle 3. Marketing by telephone is intrusive and wrong: Hang up on telephone salesmen. No exceptions. I have never been offered anything by phone that was not one of the following: A scam, unnecessary, a luxury or something I would seek out for myself when I needed it.
Principle 4: Your home is not a showroom: Put up a small sign on your gate reading: ‘‘Salespeople not welcome’’. Give short-shrift to all door-to-door salesmen. Never invite them in.
Principle 5: Never sign up to anything on the spot. If you feel any pressure to do so something is horribly, horribly wrong. You need time to think. You need to consult your advisers (son/daughter/ friend/the good people of the Commerce Commission, whoever).
Never take possession of something unless you are 100 per cent certain you want it. Never allow a salesman to leave a product with you.
Principle 7: Have tremendous caution about anyone who claims to have ‘‘secret’’ or ‘‘insider’’ knowledge, or makes startling health claims. Almost all are liars.
Finally, and I think this is the most important. Principle 8: You dictate the terms of trade. You must be the one to decide what you need, when you need it and how you will set about buying it and for what price.
Anyone who attempts to break into your life – whether by appearing at your door, by email, by phone or by letter (yes, letter-based scams are common) – is attempting to hijack your plans.
They are attempting to get you to spend outside of your budget, on terms they dictate, at a time they have chosen.
Send them packing.