From the category archives:

scams

Weigh In: Lose It Or Lose It

by anna on January 8, 2010

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Lose it or Lose It (catchy name, eh?) is a new(?) online service that promises to help you lose your unwanted weight through systematically threatening both your wallet and your sense of public shame. The following is an excerpt from their service description:

Lose It or Lose It helps all you chubby geeks put an end to your constant battle to lose weight by making you try hard for 10 weeks or be punished! Choose [poundage] per week and dollars per [pound] and give us the money up front. Each week, if you skip a weigh-in or don’t make your goal weight, you lose part of your initial investment. We send you daily reminders as well as let you add accountability friends who are updated every week with the status of your weigh-in. After the 10 weeks, you get the remaining balance back as a reward!

OK. Wow. Punishment? Investment? Reward? Strange words here, since an “investment” is generally regarded as something that you put money into with the expectation that you will get everything you put in back, plus more. Best case scenario with Lose It Or Lose It, you get all your money back as a “reward” (generally thought of as a recompense for good deeds done) with no return. Unless, that is, you consider the weight loss that you’ve managed to pull off on your own to be a return on your investment. We can quibble over the use of financial terms here, but to me this sounds like an absurd proposition almost guaranteed to fail in everything other than generating a population of angry consumers who will never give repeat business. But then maybe this is the idea.

Now, I found out about Lose it or Lose It because they are sponsoring the Daring Fireball RSS Feed this week. For those of you unfamiliar with Daring Fireball, it is a blog that features links and news bits about technology and gadgets, goings on in the blogosphere, and just general internet happenings. It has a pretty pro-Apple stance, but even without hardcore PC hackers in the audience I would guess there are plenty of “chubby geeks” who read it, so I guess this is good targeting on the part of the marketing team at Lose It or Lose It. My main problem with this service is that it appears to be trying to use the standard bet that people make with each other about losing weight into a business model. You know, where you have a friend who wants to lose weight, and you want to lose weight, so you bet each other and see who can lose it first? This is the premise, right? I’ve never understood that bet, and perhaps this is why I don’t understand this service.

I would pay any amount of money to lose weight. I would work sixteen extra jobs to lose weight. Money is not important to me in comparison with weight, at least not on this scale. I mean, if I forked over $100,000.00 to them or something, OK, maybe it would mean something. But I’m guessing that people are doing a couple hundred here or there . . . I just don’t get it. But mainly I wanted to hear from you guys about this service, because I’m wondering if maybe this is a gender thing. Perhaps this is a service that would work with men but not so well with women?

Two posts on Target in one week? Listen: it’s been that kind of a week, people.

I was in Target on Wednesday, which in itself is not remarkable, but the fact that I was shopping for compressed air was admittedly a little bit unusual. We can argue about whether it’s intelligent to shop for air in a can later, because what this post is about is the fact that I noticed that Target has some weird shelving policies and price points that are pretty different based upon where things are placed within the store. For example, I first looked for compressed air in the electronics area, where they sold one brand of compressed air, Endust Duster, in 10oz cans, one for $4.99 or a packs of two for $8.99.

I didn’t want a two-pack of compressed air, and they were out of the single cans, so as I was walking through the store it occurred to me to check the office supply section. As it turns out, they stock compressed air there as well, but only 3M Brand Dust Remover, available only in single 10oz cans for $5.14 each.

So $0.15 is not a huge discrepancy in price or anything, and these are different brands and everything, but it still made me wonder about a few things. What’s the thought process here, do you think? People headed straight for the office supply section are using an expense account to pay for their compressed air and won’t be as worried about price? People in the electronics section are purchasing things for their home, and for their personal use, and so are more likely to be interested in a product made by a domestic products company like Endust, than in a product made by 3M, which will inevitably remind them of work? And how do the companies get in on this action? Did Endust outbid 3M, or is it the other way around? Who gets more money off this deal, I wonder?

So then I start wondering about other products that could potentially be in several different parts of the store. And naturally, I think of Aquaphor, because you can find it in the baby aisle, but also sometimes in the pharmacy. I have nothing else to do besides sleuth around Target on a Wednesday, so I start snooping around and find out that Aquaphor in the baby aisle costs $16.49 for a 14oz tub. It is also marked “BABY” on the side, presumably so that paranoid new parents know that it’s safe to rub all over their child’s skin.

But if you check the pharmacy section, Aquaphor is sold in 14oz tubs at a regular price of $15.79, and to add insult to injury they are on sale this week for $14.71! So the “BABY” on the side costs you $0.70 extra on a regular day, and during a sale it can cost you up to $1.98!

I suppose it’s not unusual for a company to repackage something and charge more for it, even when it’s the same thing. I suppose the idea is that we’re supposed to believe that Aquaphor BABY is somehow more gentle and specially formulated for babies. But the thing is, it’s not — it’s all just Vaseline. Which brings me to the next question — who is paying off all the pediatricians to tell parents to buy Aquaphor when it costs about five times more than Vaseline, and it’s the same thing? Why does the petroleum industry hate babies?

Last week, my friends, on the afternoon after I had to euthanize my cat, I fell victim to a scam artist. I know! Me. I cannot tell you how humiliating it is to admit this to you guys, but I figure that if I can fall victim to a scam, then anybody can, given the right circumstances. And if that isn’t a personal financial issue, then I don’t know what is. I only hope that you can continue to take me seriously as a personal financial blogger after I cop to this idiocy.

So here’s what happened: I was at home with Mini in the afternoon, and there was a knock on the door. I hate it when people knock on the door, by the way. It’s almost never something I want to deal with. But there I was, the only adult at home, so I had to deal with it, and the person at the door is a guy who is maybe in his early twenties, he looks harmless enough, and I open the door, remaining suspicious, but no longer fearing that the individual was going to attempt something malicious. Which was, of course, my first mistake.

The kid was selling books, the proceeds of which were to be used to send himself and some other of his college classmates to England. Naturally, I wasn’t interested in any of the books he was selling, but he had an answer for this, too — his mother was a nurse at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, and they would donate the books to the hospital. Perfect! Because as it happens that’s where we got Mini’s ears fixed! And not only that, but if we donated a certain amount of money, then his uncle would come out and detail our cars! The story just got better and better! And today, as I recount what happened and pare it down to its bare bone facts, I realize that it sounds so stupid and absurd that I bought this crap hook line and sinker, but naturally his delivery was much more impressive in person.

Here’s the thing about scams: right now, you have a set of ideas in your head about what suggests legitimacy in solicitations. You don’t realize it, but you do. These things include:

  1. Detail. The right details can make an otherwise absurd story believable. In this case, the scamster told me about a program with Children’s Hospital, where my son had an operation. He also used the real names of people who live in this neighborhood as his parents, and described somebody who actually lives near me as being his mother. He had to have known enough about this neighborhood to know that I would not actually know this woman personally, that I might know her by sight, but not well enough to know if she had a college aged son or not. He might have even known about my son’s operation, if he had been looking at mail or something. He also added superfluous detail in places where you would not require it, and strangely enough, this makes us think a story is legit, when in fact it should suggest the opposite.
  2. Context. When I am headed into the grocery store, I am expecting to be solicited. I am expecting somebody to try to sell me something. I have my guard up. At home, it’s not up. I might be annoyed by having to deal with the doorbell ringing, but am not expecting a scam necessarily. And having had a childhood where I was routinely sent from door-to-door selling magazine subscriptions and the like in the name of charity, the whole thing seemed plausible.
  3. Charity. For some reason, somebody selling something is often far more suspicious than somebody trying to get money for charity. I have to assume it is because we have a sort of default setting of guilt when it comes to charity — if we don’t give, we feel bad. Or if we don’t, we are aware that we are supposed to feel bad. So someone soliciting for charity seems less suspect, when in fact they maybe should be more so.

Now, if I hadn’t been overly emotional on that day because of my cat dying, perhaps this never would have happened. But it did. And not only did I give this guy money — this is where it gets REALLY embarassing — I told him to come back when my husband was home because I thought he’d be interested in donating stuff that would end up going to Children’s Hospital, too. Oh yeah, and he did come back, and Mr. Right-Click sat him down and demanded the money back, asked him for his ID and the phone number of the guy’s mother (who supposedly lives in our neighborhood). Conveniently, the guy said both his ID and the money I had given him were in his car, and so he left “to get them” and never came back. Mr. Right-Click of course didn’t fall for any of it, and if we hadn’t been juggling getting Mini to bed at the time, he probably would have followed him to his car and/or called the police. As it was, I guess it was a good reminder about stupid tax for me.

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