Thursday, June 29, 2006

American Direct Inc: Bringing you the latest in a long line of scams.

Let me depart from my normal mode of irreverent satire and mount my high horse so that I may impart a little bit of wisdom to the least the smattering of people who occasionally stumble across my blog. A blog that I carefully write on a surprisingly regular basis. A blog that contains a superior degree of narrative professionalism. A blog, that I humbly submit, might be among the most readable articles available in mass media. The internet is mass media. I am a journalist. Hey, if those carpet baggers on Fox can call themselves journalists I should be able to call myself one too. Hell, if they pass for journalists I should be able to pass as a brain surgeon. Ass clowns.

OK, it's bullshit. Like so much of the garbage floating out there today, but at least I'm not writing about my cat. I wouldn't do that. She made me sign a confidentiality agreement.

Moving along, I think I should start my American Direct story by providing you some background. I am what people commonly refer to as a loser. I disagree, mind you, opting to label myself as creatively efficient and even a little precocious, but I realize that there are a lot of people who don't see me that way at all. Fortunately that is a small group of people formally referred to as my family. Just kidding. Sort of.

It's not that the road I have taken is less traveled so much as it has not been a direct route. The interesting thing is that in spite of failing to take the freeway to get where so many of us go, by bending a few rules and taking a few shortcuts I am exactly where I should be. In many ways I am well ahead of where I should be. How else can you explain a 35 year-old with four grand kids? You heard me! So what's this got to do with American Direct? Wait! Who is American Direct, Inc.? And why is this Steve V. C. character continuously typing the name American Direct in his blog?

Part of it is to make that name stick in your head. American Direct. Say with me! American Direct. Incorporated. Got it? Of course you do. The other reason is that Google will catch that name in my blog and position it based on the number of times it appears in this file. I believe that American Direct deserves to be given full attention. AMERICAN DIRECT!

Denny Crane.

This ties into my life as a loser because as a loser I have been sucked into a number of scams. Like paying $300 for information on how to become an air traffic controller and earn a six figure income while flying the world for free. Right. But I was 20 and stupid. I also took several jobs that were scams. Jobs that promised to promote me to management within a few months. Then I was sent out to middle class neighborhoods to sell $1200 sets of encyclopedias. This was in the early 1990's before Al Gore invented the internet and people could look stuff up for free. I also sold junk jewelry to people at work. Wanna buy this rope chain? Scams.

I have encountered several others throughout my life, but my experience in being scammed as well as being asked to scam insulated me from being sucked in. I know when something isn't legit and I can walk away. That's a great feeling. And before you start thinking that it's easy, let me just say that it's not at all. Don't assume that scam artists are stupid people. They are often very intelligent and highly perceptive. Scam artists could probably form a club, set IQ as a qualifying factor and Mensa wouldn't get in.

Some very smart people get screwed by scams such as the one I recently observed at a company that goes by the name American Direct. They even ensconce themselves in Old Glory and feature a magnificent eagle in their imagery. Patriots don't screw people over. That's why Trugreen Chemlawn ran out and slapped American flags on their trucks and uniforms right after 9-11. I know because I even got scammed by them. But that's another story. American Direct is the here and the now.

American Direct's scheme is membership shopping. We're not talking about soft scams like Costco and Sam's Club. Those places spell it out for you and anybody who can do math can recognize that those wholesale clubs don't pass the smell test. Not unless you habitually buy 62% fat hamburgers in 30 pound packages. Nope. American Direct promises to cut you in on capitalism's dirty little secret: Factory pricing. They wave suspicious invoices and mysterious distributor catalogues in front of their marks showing them the differences between the retail price and the price the manufacturer charges for goods right off the assembly line. Which, to be honest, is a huge difference but not quite as dramatic as that portrayed by American Direct.

Now let me be above board. I don't know that American Direct, Inc. is lying about the fact that they can attain goods at a price well below the retail price. It's quite possible that they do save some money for those who agree to join the club, or co-op as they call it. In fact, I suspect that they do save just enough money to prevent them from being locked up for fraud. But their marketing tactics have scam written all over them.

First they hit you with the phone call. Basic sweepstakes telemarketing to selected zip codes that are likely to yield results. Blue collar types. Middle income. Potentially dense. They tell you that you are a guaranteed winner who will receive one of five prizes with the top prize being a BRAND NEW TRUCK!!! Notice that it's not a car. Demographics. Joe Nascar don't want no hatchback.

It's harmless. They don't want anything from you over the phone. Just let them send a brochure about the contest, which is easy to accept. A few days go by and the packet comes in the mail. Once again, it's vague. They don't tell you what they want, but to claim you guaranteed prize you have to show up and endure a "presentation". No strings are guaranteed a great prize.

Let me say that I knew this was a scam from the start. These things always are. They probably never give away the top prize and stick people with the prize of least value which is usually some certificate for a couple of nights in some motel room outside of Branson, Missouri...or as I like to call it: hell. Sorry, but rednecks and white trash converging in the same fetid sweatbox for good old fashioned "white" entertainment is not my idea of a good time. Granted they do have several options which include Orlando, Gatlinburg and Honolulu. Orlando is lard ass tourist heaven, Gatlinburg is like a KKK meeting with rides and Honolulu is a pipe dream because anybody who can afford the flight out there isn't going to want to hole up in some Days Inn 3 miles inland. Scam. American Direct.

But if that's not enough to convince you that American Direct is a scam, let's skip past the routine presentation, which includes audience participation and a lot of energy, and move right to the close. That's where the fun is. You see, they don't tell you anything about the price of membership until they have completely run through the pitch and even addressed some personal needs to get you on that hook. The price is a dead giveaway that something is amiss.

American Direct, Inc. has a two part price. The annual membership fee is only $200. Very reasonable for a club that promises to deliver savings of 50% off of the lowest retail price on the open market. In fact, I might have sprung for $200 and immediately ordered a plasma screen T.V. for $500 since that's the price they claimed I could grab it for. Even though I doubt that I would ever see it since this place had the look and feel of a fly by night operation that was only going to be in that site as long as they could book pigeons for their presentations.

But they wanted a start up fee. A one time initial payment that would help us all escape from the shackles of retail forever. After a very dramatic rally the final lock to this mystical land was revealed: $1999. That's one thousand nine hundred ninety-nine dollars. Two grand. Cha-ching. American Direct needed to secure this payment in order to pay the bills and acquire factory direct goods from every manufacturer in the world. Ouch. American. Direct. Scam. Inc.

American Direct realizes that it didn't invite wealthy people to participate in this so they can take payments on the initial installment and they claim to be willing to let you name the terms. I didn't see if they would take $10 a month for the next 200 months, but I suspect that they floated that $199 annual fee out there to set a baseline. If anybody offered less than that they had to balk. I've seen that game played before. They weren't taking less than $200. My litmus test was a little different.

I told the girl who was assigned as my closer that I needed to verify the company. She was nice and I could tell that she was just a naive little girl who got sucked into some job that was not what she thought it would be. 15 years ago I was in her shoes, working around sleazy guys in cheap gold chains with too much product in their hair. I know she wanted to jump in front of a train and I wanted to tell her that McDonald's offered a better career path. She was in the wrong place. When I politely and effectively shut her down, she deferred to one of the sleazy supervisors who walked in wearing pinstriped pants and a black silk shirt with too many buttons opened. If he weren't so young I think I would have ripped him to pieces but I laid low, played the part and stroked him to see if I could get two days to make a decision. No dice. Pay now. American Direct.

That's your cue. Any legitimate deal is going to be there tomorrow. I'm not talking about buying some collectible item or buying a prime piece of real estate. There are some purchases you have to make quickly, but a membership service is not one of them. Especially when they give you no information up front and make nothing available for public review. Anything you have to buy now, is something you can verify the actual value of now. You won't hear of American Direct unless you go to a presentation and you can't learn about how they really work unless you pay. Their website requires a password and offers no insight into their operation. SCAM!

American Direct, Inc. asks you to take a leap of faith. They require a large investment up front and provide you with no way to try them out to see if they're for real. Everything they say sounds too good to be true and in order to find out if it is, you have to hand them a check. Anybody that does is asking for trouble. If American Direct calls you, go ahead and go to the presentation. See if your key starts the Ranger, let yourself get excited about the world of direct purchasing but when they ask for your money ask them to give you three days to make a rational decision. Their answer should speak for itself. Better yet tell them that you'd like a 30 day free trial. Tell them you'll agree to pay the full membership fee up front upon delivery of your first three purchases. They won't do it. They'll give you every excuse in the book from contractual obligations to state business regulations, but they won't let your become a member until you hand them your money.

I could call the BBB or the Attorney General's office but why? First, they won't do anything. The Better Business Bureau is a bigger fraud than anything that has ever been reported to them. They do nothing outside of waste time and collect membership dues. Just like Angie's list or Who's Who among American High School Students. Pay a fee and you can be famous too. Or reputable. The AG is almost as bad. In Ohio, the AG basically collects a salary to prepare for a run at the Governor's office. They don't do a dammed thing. Except waste taxpayer dollars. And take bribes. Too bad there isn't some sort of legal official who is elected to make sure politicians do their jobs... Secondly, I don't want to bust them. I think that companies like American Direct serve a valuable purpose.

Actually they serve several. One is that they provide people with limited principals a means to earn a living. Crooks have to eat too, right? Would you rather they screw over people stupid enough to hand them money or do you find stick up men more honorable? Personally, I favor these scam artists over politicians anyday. I can protect my money from the scam artists. Politicians just take it from me. Honestly I prefer robbers to politicians. Yes, I would rather be car jacked than taxed. I would rather be gang raped, beaten and left for dead by a gang of Amish bikers than endure the endless heist that is American politics.

Another purpose is education. Julie, the girl who tried to close me at American Direct, is just a young girl trying to make her way. I respect that. She's in a bad spot and has to hate her job. I know I did. She'll figure it out and emerge a better person. She'll take a lousy experience with a crappy company and parlay that into a fine career. She'll learn not to define yourself by your job. It's the other way around and sometimes there are jobs that just aren't worth doing. Walk away. In fact, she's learning more about the real world at American Direct than she could in any business class in any college. Take that, Yale. Speaking of scams, eh?

Sorry, folks, but a college education isn't worth much more than the paper the degree is printed on. Sometimes that degree can attain a nice salary for you, but that degree doesn't mean that you aren't a complete moron. In fact, that degree sometimes inhibits your ability to realize that you're an asshole and everybody knows it. You think that paper tells you that you're smart and educated, when it actually says you took four years off while a lot of people were actually learning something meaningful. Well in my economics 101 class...Guess what, the real world is so far past Econ 101 it's not funny. You could get a PhD in Economics and still not get it. That's why these guys at American Direct don't have degrees. That's also why they are rich. Sorry, but doing keg stands every other night and skipping that 10:00 leadership class to recover is not preparing you for the real world. Going to it isn't either. Julie is getting a masters degree in life and if she can keep her chin up and push through it, she's going to be just fine.

As much as I loath the game American Direct plays, I have to respect what they ultimately accomplish. In 3 years they'll be gone on and the owners will be setting up their latest racket, but the suckers still be lining up. They really are born every minute and with NASCAR steadily sucking brain cells out of the middle class, thousands are being created every day. For every dollar they scam, soul they steal and dream they crush, five strong people will emerge a little wiser and a lot stronger. American Direct helped me hone skills I developed the hard way. Maybe Julie's building those skills right now. At American Direct.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Redneck TV

I used to think Jeff Foxworthy was a funny guy. There was a time when he was making fun of white trash and inbred hicks. Now he ensconces himself in that shroud of ignorance and laughs all the way to the bank. Larry the Cable guy started out as a parody of the stereotypical hick, but somehow he's become some cultural hero that people almost look up to.

The two of them anchor a show entitled Blue Collar TV. Somehow elevating their trivial and tired acts into some sort of working class celebration. As somebody who comes from a blue collar background I find it insulting to assume that everybody in the working class would be entertained by the stupid crap these hacks foist upon their viewing audience.

I don't begrudge these guys making money. Nothing would give me more joy than to realize a revenue source in making a complete ass of myself and if I could exploit some niche market to maintain a lucrative following I am certain I would pander to that audience too.

My issue is with the fact that there is an audience that celebrates the disagreeable negative stereotypes portrayed by these comics. When Chris Rock did his bit on the difference between black people and niggers, he didn't embrace an audience of gang-bangers and remove the satire from his act to embrace them. He was speaking to his audience of regular people of all colors. He was bemoaning the fact that a handful of jerks ruin life for everybody by perpetrating a negative stereotype. It was a biting commentary on our society that addressed the small minority of blacks who live down to negative stereotypes while skewering whites who accept that stereotype in general. Best of all it was funny.

Foxworthy used to be funny because he made fun of a segment of white society that represents a small but very negative minority. He wasn't exceptionally cruel in his comedy, but he made fun of those hopeless morons who think it's OK to leave the trash in a pile in the back yard instead of walking it out to the curb once a week. Suddenly his You might be a redneck... schtick is like some sort of anthem for the mobile home set. It's not funny when the people you're making fun of wear that joke like some badge of honor. Foxworthy doesn't care as long as the money keeps rolling in.

Larry the Cable guy has departed from his witless banter about naked grandmothers and fart induced fires to dabble in political issues but his political commentary isn't comedy or satire. Since Larry is a character who doesn't so much tell jokes as he does portray them, the political aspect of Larry the Cable guy comes across as racist and ignorant. The lines between comedy and hate-mongering are blurred.

In fact the lines between Larry the Cable guy and his creator have become blurred to the point where Dan Whitney no longer exists. In Cars the role of Mater is credited to Larry the Cable guy. The same is true in Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector. One would think that Dan Whitney, who started out with several characters he would portray, would want to have a career outside of Larry. Eventually the novelty will wear off and Larry the Cable guy will go the way of Buster Poindexter, and other fictional characters that became part of pop culture. Sure Dan Whitney will still have the money, but will he still be trying to milk that Larry the Cable guy act 20 years from now?

I suppose that the success of this genre speaks to the ignorance of the fans. Since most of those who watch Blue Collar TV wouldn't know how to spell satire much less define it, these idiots think that Larry the Cable guy is empowering in some sort of way and that being a redneck can't be a bad thing if they talk about it on TV. They are simple minded people and the comics have resorted to very simple material to amuse their audience.