20 Common Sales Scams Observed by a Former Salesperson Who Sold Everything
In pursuit of my writing career I worked 100 day jobs until I was able to sustain, many in sales. Warning signs follow.
Okay, I sold almost everything. It certainly seems that way, anyway. What follows is based largely on personal experience as both seller and prospect.
Ask yourself if either of these two scenarios are familiar:
Your phone rings.
“Can I speak to the decision-maker of the household?”
That’s your first clue.
Or, you’re at a flea market or garage sale and you’re haggling over a price for a comic book, or a worthless piece of jewelry.
“That can be worth a thousand dollars one day.”
And yet you know better. You’re a smart bargain shopper.
Sales is a game of manipulation, any way you slice it.
Of my 100 day jobs (not an exaggeration, unfortunately, as I did not have the patience to stay in any of them for long), outside of a ten-year on and off teaching stint most of my jobs were in sales.
In an effort to keep the bills paid, I sold the following during my journey as a writer: medical billing software, psychological testing kits, softcore porn videotapes to video stores nationwide, annual PBS memberships, movie investments, tools, hardware, computer toner … you get the picture.
I was typically high-performing in these efforts, and wrote training manuals for more than one.
I knew how to sell, and if/when any of the gigs became suspicious or scammy, I immediately left.
You’ve likely heard this one before, and it’s spot-on: If you receive a call and it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true.
Of course, those words can apply to anything …
- You have a voicemail on your phone: “Hi, this is Mr. Jones. You contacted us a few months ago for some information and we haven’t heard back after our first conversation. Your file is still open. Can you call us at _________? Thank you.”
This is a common scam, all in the name of lead generation. Chances are you never contacted them before, and you are very simply a name on a list they want to massage into a legitimate lead (for whatever they’re selling).
2. If a company contacts you and they come across as suspicious, when you have a moment input the name of said company, or individual, in your computer’s search engine, followed by the word “scam.” You may be shocked at what you find.
3. Investment opportunities for seniors. The SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission), which regulates the sales of securities (an instrument that requires any bank deposit or withdrawal in the amount of $10,000 or more), was initiated in part because of unscrupulous financial scams targeted to seniors. For any seniors receiving such calls, hang up immediately.
4. In fact, if you are receiving any investment solicitation over the phone, hang up. Among the most common openers on the part of the salesperson once you say hello, to lighten the mood, include: “So, how’s the hardest working man (or woman) in show business?” Don’t engage. They don’t know you; again, you’re simply a name on a list.
5. Student loan scams, which are usually nothing more than a device to attain one’s social security number. You will be called with the possibility of a “refinance” of your student loan debt. Such a refinance typically includes a monthly fee to the offering service. Deal only with your original debtor, or very likely your credit will substantially suffer.
6. “Can I speak to the decision-maker of the household, please?” Yet another red flag.
7. Be wary of any offer of “free classes” or “trial offers” that require you to share your credit card numer. There is typically a “donation” fee or subscription fee involved, or some other unforeseen charge.
8. If you are an artist, such as a filmmaker, never pay someone upfront to raise money for you. Artists work in the hope business. The artist’s need to create a piece of work — that in some cases will require money to put together — is sometimes overwhelming. I use filmmakers here as the example as they are particularly targeted. Many shady individuals and companies will charge upfront fees to “find” money to allegedly fund the filmmaker’s project. Of course, that money rarely if ever materializes. Do your due diligence, as always, and then walk as far away as possible.
9. Beware of any outside entity calling to “advise” or “help” you with the following question: “Hello, my name is _______, and I’m calling today to see if you need help filling out your state unemployment forms.” Never share personal information with someone you don’t know. Most especially, PLEASE refrain from sharing your social security number under ANY circumstance. This is perhaps the largest cause of identity theft in the U.S. today.
10. Be wary of any company calling you claiming they can “fix your credit.” If you perform due diligence — which is a must under any such circumstance — you will find a handful of legitimate credit repairing agencies out there. They are frequently frowned upon, but they do exist, most often taking advantage of state or federal guidelines to clean up some of your mess. If you need help with your credit, read Better Business Bureau records online and proactively seek out the real companies yourself.
I hope these bullet points help you avoid future consternation.
As bad as phone scams are, in-person scams are worse as the salesperson tends to size-up a “mark” or “rube” primarily via the prospect’s eye contact and body language.
It is easier for a canny salesperson to gain a sense of trust in-person, as the prospective buyer is engaged with someone on their best and most professional — albeit persistent — behavior.
- You are buying a car, for example. Walk away from overly-aggressive and chatty salespeople. Chances are they are either in a contest with their co-workers for “spiffs” or “bonuses,” or they simply cannot afford to make their rent or mortgage payment this month. Many are trained to persist — and lower the price until a floor is hit — before you walk away. Likely you can purchase the same car from another dealer at a decreased dollar amount. Search online for company reviews of any such entity.
- You are in a privately-owned store and the head salesperson is not giving you a break on the price. You say you will purchase the item from elsewhere and attempt to walk away. Said salesperson does a 180, and tries to upsell you. This is a common attempt at a scam. They come across as though they are offering you more for the same price — “I’ll add two extra pots”— and then perhaps something on top of that for just a few dollars more.
- Speaking of, the world of direct marketing is the most egregious in terms of upselling. There is nothing wrong with the practice in itself; where it becomes a scam is when you intend to pay for one thing and the salesperson convinces you to take other items with the idea that you are saving money. You’re not. You’re spending more. The direct marketing world embraces seminars, and includes many items you may buy in person as offered on infomercials, or life coaches/gurus who have a substantial product line and convince you those products will change your life.
- Be very, very wary of purchasing toner equipment from a privately-owned company. I briefly worked for a private toner and office supply manufacturer. A patron would enter the office and purchase needed toner. The office takes the person’s credit card, and the transaction is made. For the next year, the office’s collection department would take innumerable calls from incensed customers. Why? Did the toner not work? No, the toner worked fine, but the credit cards were now being charged monthly subscription fees for more toner. The customer was never aware they were paying for a “one-year plan,” which is what Collections told them. Their first payment was actually to be multiplied by 12. As soon as I learned this, I quit the company and contacted the Bureau of Consumer Affairs.
- Non-cash entities. During today’s era of Covid-19, especially, many companies only accept credit cards as a “germ-free” way of transacting business. The customer inputs or swipes their card in a device, and are charged. Nothing wrong with that … but, once again, if you are doing this with a private entity, caveat emptor (let the buyer beware).
- Do not buy face masks from anyone on the street. You will be sold a bill of goods and besides, do you know where — or how — these things were made? Ditto hand sanitizer.
- Do not buy vitamins promising to cure every illness known to man.
- Beware of MLM (Multi-Level Marketing) scams. You will sit in a room with presenters who appear hopped-up on some major illegal drug and extol the benefits of “uplines” and “downlines” of their product, all with the endgame of doing what they can to convince you to invest. If you attend one of these meetings and feel you are about to be engaged in a cult, you are — just one with a whole other agenda: the almighty dollar. See here for more information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multi-level_marketing
- Real estate investment scams. Again, due diligence is everything. Real estate investment groups, due to SEC regulations, are not allowed to openly solicit the “non-accredited” among their members (who have earned less than $200,000 yearly over the previous two years and have a net worth of less than $1million), and yet they do so anyway. Be aware you may well be engaging in federally illegal activity. Speak to an attorney if such an opportunity presents itself.
- If our pandemic becomes manageable, the next time you visit a city such as Las Vegas, New York, or Hollywood, stay away from street games. You’ll lose every time.
Certainly not all salespeople are scam artists. There are innumerable honest salespeople out there who earn an honest living. But understand most who work for companies large or small, regardless of honesty and laudable standards, practice psychology and sales techniques and have quotas they have to meet or they risk being fired. Those who do not work for a company are wholly dependent on their own skill and the gullibility of others. In particular, street gamers who gain your eye contact and convince you to play look for certain types of people to prey upon: young adults, teens, women alone, elderly. They tend to stay away from anyone who looks formidable, so keep that in mind the next time you wander Venice Beach.
Be aware, is all I ask. With all of this. Eyes wide open.
Thank you for reading.
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