Yet again, my local daytime news broadcast has brought me word of an amazing opportunity. A site is hosting auctions for gift cards. The auctions start at a dollar and can be for gift cards worth fifty dollars or more. Whenever a member bids, the site adds one minute and fifteen seconds to the auction, so don't expect to put any of your mad ebay sniping skills to work here. Still, it's worth a shot if five really can get you ten, right? Not so fast bargain hunter. It'll cost you three bucks to enter each auction, (win or lose) and if you do win they charge you five to mail you the .01 ounce gift card. Still, with such substantial profit margins in play, an eight dollar fee might seem worth it. This is the same logic that leads a person to buy multiple, five dollar scratch-off tickets every day. The hundreds of lost dollars vanish in the mind of the chump who's thrilled to find that he's just won thirty. And that guy's an economist compared to the one who gets really excited when he sees a discarded scratch-off in the street, and just has to look to see if it's a winner.
This isn't the first time that I've seen one of my local network news programs openly advocating something that anyone with a basic knowledge of carnival games would steer well clear of. In most cases, I really don't think that there's any bribery or conflict of interest at work. I find it much more likely that the reporters are just as gullible as these people's victims. I once saw a newscaster do a five minute segment about her numerologist. I'm not saying that it wasn't instructive. She helpfully showed us how to determine our individual "Life Numbers" and was more than happy to do some personalized mathamagic for anyone who swings by her parlor and is actually willing to pay money for it. The piece was actually a not-so cleverly disguised promotion for the, then, new series NUMB3RS, but the fact remains that a news personality presented a numerologist to the viewing audience as something other than a con artist who is too lazy to even have a good cold reading act.
Psychics selling happiness aren't the thing this year though. This season's sleazy come-ons will all promise to save or make you money in this troubled economy. Whether it's with a service that sells your address to the catalog companies or just a nice lady who tells you what numbers to play, that's the hot message now. When you hear it, run.