Private vs. Uncle Scams: Pick your poison

Private vs. Uncle Scams: Pick your poison

By Carol Mizrahi

Some scams have been around for years, like paying upfront for a job that doesn't exist or for training sessions and work materials that never arrive. There are phony lottery and sweepstake scams, fake retail stores on the Internet — which look just like the real thing — and the ubiquitous "I'm stranded in Timbuktu. My purse was stolen. Please wire money!"

There are scams using Internet resellers, such as eBay and Craigslist. A "buyer" makes a purchase, deliberately overpays, and asks the seller to wire the difference. Their check bounces, but your money transfer doesn't. There are dozens of ways to get scammed into accepting malware: e-cards, e-invites, holiday apps, screen savers, "fun and free" software, and by contacting friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter who have been hacked into.

Newspaper and magazine publishers scam you, too. You subscribe to XYZ magazine, and at the end of its subscription life, the publisher renews you — without asking and often at a higher rate. (Your credit card is on file.)

Dayna Morales, a gay New Jersey waitress, gets an "A" for scam originality. She complained on Facebook that a couple she had served wrote on their credit slip: "I'm sorry, but I can't tip you because I do not agree with your life style." Ms. Morales collected thousands of dollars from sympathetic Facebook friends — until the maligned couple showed up at the local radio station with the controversial receipt in hand. There was no note, but there was proof they had left a tip — a generous one at that!

But scams aren't the exclusive domain of the private sector. The government is a major scammer, though their scams — once uncovered — are called "scandals." In the last two years alone, the government has scamdled (not a typo) us out the wazoo.

In 2012 the General Services Administration (GSA), whose mission is to manage the government's resources with "the utmost care ... allow for no waste," spent $800,000 of the taxpayers' money on a four-day Las Vegas retreat for themselves. Did they make restitution? If you think "yes," I've got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

Then there was the National Security Agency's (NSA) scam, which gave one man, Snowden, unlimited access to unlimited amounts of classified data, in violation of I.T.'s golden rule. And, yes, that's the same NSA that tracks five billion cell phones daily. With all the snooping they do, you'd think they'd know enough to snoop on their own snoops, especially when everyone knows more accidents happen at home.

Beginning in 2010, organizations petitioning the IRS for not-for-profit 501(c) status and had the words "tea party" or "patriot" in their names were deliberately targeted — their paperwork stonewalled for years. Why? To prevent them from functioning until after the 2012 presidential election. Were the victims compensated for IRS' criminal behavior? In a way, yes — by "accidentally" releasing petitioners' names and personal data into cyberspace, putting them at the mercy of identity thieves.

Then there's the ObamaCare scamdel. Rather than "Buy American" and create jobs for unemployed Americans, ACA contracted CGI, a Canadian firm with a known poor track record in the development of health care websites — to the tune of $678 million. More jobs for Americans were lost when the Defense Information Services Agency contracted the same CGI for $871 million, followed by Homeland Security and the Coast Guard — another $143 million. You think maybe someone's getting a kickback?

In May of this year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) brought a lawsuit against the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA), a not-for-profit made up of 22,000 music teachers whose shared goal is the promotion of music study. Why go after them?

Because in MTNA's code of ethics, written 137 years ago at its founding, it says that members cannot "actively recruit students from other teachers," a common agreement in many professions. The FTC discovered this odious phrase and screamed at the music cartel: "Anti-competition! Price-fixing!"

Because the MTNA is a small, not-for-profit with a limited budget, it could not afford to challenge the FTC, whose lawsuit against MTNA may be illegal; therefore, it readily agreed to edit the offensive language. But that wasn't enough for the bored and bullying bureaucrats at the FTC. They also mandated that MTNA must: 1) send the FTC all records going back 20 years; 2) read aloud a statement at every national meeting stating that the anti-free trade clause had been expunged (= spankings); 3) ensure that all 500 affiliates sign a compliance statement; 4) create an antitrust compliance program to include annual training; and 5) send regular reports to the FTC for the next 20 years!

Apparently, the FTC is overstaffed, and their budget needs to be slashed (idle hands are the devil's work), but where was the FTC's inspector general, the person charged with overseeing the agency's management and behavior? Some watchdog he turned out to be — more like a sleeping dog — no bark and no bite. For greater efficiency, effectiveness and independence, those "watching" government should come from the private sector.

The Bottom Whine: Scams abound in both the private and public sectors, but if I'm going to be scammed, I prefer it come from the private. First of all, they use their own funds — rather than mine — to bankroll their scams. They also don't bully their victims; if they did, the scam would collapse, and, finally, there's a (small) possibility that private scammers will be caught and punished, whereas in the public sector, it's close to impossible to find anyone responsible ... and if you do, the worst that ever happens to the perpetrator is that he/her is given 10 lashes with a wet noodle and transferred to a different Department or Agency — pension intact.

Carol Mizrahi is the author of the blog "The Bottom Whine" (http://www.thebottomwhine.blogspot.com) and "Coming of Age ... AGAIN," a novel. She lives in Champaign.

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