Is there a sucker born every minute?

This past May I received a check in the mail from an advertising company for an Internet telephone book. The check was for about $3.  Being the competent businesswoman that I am, I looked at the check and wondered why I didn’t’ remember ever signing up for the service.

I read the front carefully to make sure it was an actual check and not one of those fake checks that you send back to the company and they give you that much credit if you buy the service. But no, it was a legitimate check.

I endorsed it, cashed it and figured I’d been reimbursed for some overpayment I’d made to them. Since I was in the process of canceling some telephone advertising my business had used in the past, I figured this must have been part of that and this refund represented the termination of the relationship.  Not that I spent that much time thinking about it.  It was only for $3. It wasn’t exactly going to put my business in the black for the year.

So imagine my surprise when I got a bill in the mail this week for $179 for an Internet listing of my company that I did not remember negotiating.  Now, I might not be able to track every $3 refund check that shows up in the mail, but I sure as heck would have remembered signing up for $179 worth of Internet advertising since that is pretty much my entire advertising budget for the year.

So I called the company to see if I had accidentally negotiated this while still on those pain pills after my surgery, in which case I would consider the contract null and void for the obvious reason that you can’t take the word of someone drooling and grinning because of pain pills.

But no, I hadn’t forgotten any negotiation. I hadn’t ever spoken to this company before. What I had done was cash their $3 check.  Apparently I had scrutinized the wrong side of the check.  What I should have done was take off my glasses, grab a magnifying glass and closely peruse the teeny, tiny type on the back of the check where I signed to cash it.  Somewhere in that forest of black dots, I apparently agreed that by cashing the check, I would spend $179 advertising my company with them.

As I attempted to shake off the feeling of being slimed, I explained to the woman on the other end of the phone that I wouldn’t be paying that bill or any future bill they might send me. She got quite huffy and stated that if I didn’t want the service, I didn’t have to take it.  Somehow, she made it sound as if I were the sleazy one for taking their $3 and then refusing to give them $179 back.

While my math may not be the best, getting $179 back on a $3 investment in less than a month – well, that’s the kind of rate of return we haven’t seen since the 90s Internet start ups.

As P. T. Barnum rival David Hannum once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” I can only assume these people are doing business based on the theory that enough suckers will buy into their scheme – or feel obligated to pay after cashing the check even if they didn’t realize what they were committing to when they cashed it – that they will more than make up for those of us born the other 59 seconds of that minute.

If there is one thing the Internet has taught me though, is that there are people in this world who will believe just about anything, no matter how absurd it sounds. Since many of them are my friends, I don’t want to actually suggest they are suckers. But I have to figure that the same people who send me messages about women exploding in gas stations because static from their panty hose mixes with gas fumes from the pump are the same people who would buy into this little $3 check scheme.

These are the same people who think there is a little girl in a hospital somewhere in the deep south who has been dying for over five years now and still doesn’t have enough get well cards to make it in the Guinness Book of World Records. 

To all of them, I have only this to say. There is no little girl.  There has not been one woman who has ever actually exploded in a gas station from static cling.  You will not have bad luck if you don’t pass the story on to fifty of your closest friends within seven minutes after receiving it. 

Now stand up and proudly say with me, “There may be a sucker born every minute, but I don’t have to be one of them.”