Scam artists, master and minor manipulators, con-men and other ne’er-do-wells: you’ve won this round. Being unemployed, I was recently vulnerable to a series of crappy surveys that conspaminated every email inbox and phone number I have. It was a sad affair, a few months back now; I can hardly remember writing the opening sentence of this essay, right after the initial scamming. Instead of recalling that fiasco, I’ll write about the small ways I get scammed all the time.
Paypal is probably the biggest scam I’m currently ensnared in. As I freelance and am paid via paypal (and occasionally buy and sell random goods on ebay), paypal is the way I get paid, and it’s crappy all the way around. Although it can take money from your bank account instantly, transferring it to your bank takes three to four days every time. If their only service is to move money, shouldn’t they at least be good at that? And, as anyone else who uses paypal knows, its website is unreliable and hard to navigate. So, call that scam #1.
Similarly abusive of the individual consumer is the overdraft fee charged by large banks (and some smaller ones now). It’s true that the S.E.C. finally forced banks to give customers a choice as to whether or not they want to be allowed to buy a $2 coffee they don’t have the funds for (and probably don’t realize they don’t have the funds for) and then charged $30 in an overdraft fee; however, having lived close to the poverty line for a long time, I’ve gotten burned this way many times. The real scam is the inequity behind it: if you spend two dollars you don’t have, the penalty should be two dollars, not fifteen times that. I’m fairly sure I’ve been charged overdraft fees recently on an account I thought I had already closed. If this is so, it’s silently staining my credit while I’m too busy and otherwise distracted to find out for sure. Banks, on the other hand, hire busloads of bean counters to make sure my credit is indeed being stained.
Another, smaller scam I am only semi-conscious of: how swiping any kind of card to save money in any store (which is crucial to getting even the lowest denominator deal) means handing over your “identity” as a consumer: how much you spend, what you spend it on, how often, even what time of day you go shopping is recorded. We do this to save money, which we’re desperate to do, which we must do to get by, so we freely hand over this information and are promptly pitched to from all sides.
Last but certainly not least, I feel scammed for paying taxes and not having any kind of insurance, any safety net at all. I’m only 31, I’ve worked at jobs where they took Social Security taxes out for ten or twelve years, but I’m fairly confident I won’t be receiving Social Security when I’m 62. And, since I don’t have health insurance, it seems less and less likely that I’ll make it to 62. Many people have worked much longer and harder than I have without insurance, without any sort of social contract in place. What about the people who worked all their lives, then got laid off two or three years ago in the nasty beginnings of this global collapse, and now are 58 and can’t get hired ever again? Other civilized nations provide for people, offer much more than a limited unemployment check; elsewhere, people’s health and basic well-being are valued. Here in America, it just doesn’t work that way. And this is the saddest scam of all.