Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Internet Scam Backlash

I got a class action lawsuit settlement notice in the mail yesterday. You know, one of those multi-page, trifolded, rather bland looking things that generally require you to read a lot of fine print. After which, you usually toss it, because the fine print basically says that as a member of the class, you are eligible to receive a coupon for $10 off Verizon accessories, and a bunch of lawyers will probably be receiving $120 million.

Well, this one turned out to be interesting enough to bother submitting: with almost no effort at all, they'll send me a check for $25.00, or if you can prove actual losses, you can file for that amount. The upshot of this class action is that credit card companies inflated the exchange rate for foreign credit card transactions over a period of years, costing consumers from 1 to 3 percent in extra fees on such transactions. That's pretty serious. It make the Office Space scam of rounding off the pennies, look like shoplifting. Anyone who spent any significant amount of time overseas in the last ten years probably is eligible for a good chunk of change. Of course that would require having kept your credit card statements for that time period. Who doesn't do that?

Anyway, I have traveled very little in that time and $25 is probably more than I deserve, so I just went for that one. This is where it gets interesting.

I did a quick google search on this thing because I was curious about the specifics of this class action suit. One of the articles i found had quite a bit of user discussion, much of which discussed this question: IS THIS A SCAM?

Now, I'm as paranoid as the next guy. I pretty much automatically assume every single unsolicited email I receive is a scam. For U.S. Mail, anything that looks like a bill or a "congratulations!!" sort of letter, I assume is a mild scam or simply a lame advertisement.

But I have not once in my entire life received a legalese-filled letter that turned out to be a scam. Except to the extent that class action lawsuits in general, are simply ways for lawyers to extract large sums of money from corporations with marginal benefit to the actual victim. Now that's not to say I wasn't slightly skeptical of this one when I first read it: after all, in clear language it basically says you can get $25 by simply going to this web site and clicking OK. But it was pretty easy to get to a comfort level on this one: Googling revealed the details of this settlement in legitimate news sources, and the letter itself contains the names and physical addresses of the law firms involved, also easily verifiable. And finally, and most importantly, in order to request the $25, you need provide no additional information. All you do is click "OK" to verify your name and address. What possible motive would a scammer have? The only information that he would get out of this, is a confirmation that you received the letter.

But in this discussion, the paranoid are not to be convinced! Check out these comments:

Kad2112: I just got the same letter with 3 options as well. I am going to trash it. I think it is a scam. It offers me $25. To me it is not worth the risk.

Rudy: This IS an elaborate scam. There is absolutely no reason to think otherwise other than to believe what you read on the internet?!?!?! My lord, people! You are just ASKING for trouble!

Jennifer: I received the same packet and letter and I’ve never even traveled outside of the US.... If its not a scam, I have no idea why they would think I’ve spent money outside the US. Its obviously trash, so I’m throwing it away. Oh yeah, and they printed my address wrong. Sketch

David: All I know is they must get your name and address from public records. I bought a house and they put the wrong address on the deed, then fixed it and that’s the only time my name and that wrong address was together. Now today I receive the same letter everyone else got and to top it off, I have never been overseas in my life. I’ve never been out of the U.S. So I find it hard to believe that there’s any merit to this “so called claim”.

sonny: this completely reeks scam. everybody that is planning on using the last form ( ithink the red one), consider yourself warned ..

John P: I am filing a mail fraud compalaint with the local USPS. Phishing on the internet is one thing. Mail fraud occurred when they used USPS to send out fraudulent documents. This is clearly a scam.... HOW MANY OF THE SCAMMERS ARE MONITORING THIS BOARD & CONVINCING YOU THAT THIS IS LEGIT?????????????????

Anyway. Over the course of this "discussion" numerous other folks provided links to credible news sources, indicated that they had actually contacted the court, and even references to the actual case on the government web site. But the paranoids could not be convinced!!

So it seems that we've come full circle. People have gotten so used to scams - phishing, pyramid, Nigerian investments, whatever - that far from there being any chance of being suckered into one, the trick now is convincing people that something ISN'T a scam. No matter what you say, there's always an answer -- the press release is a fake! The law firms are fronts! The case number in the system, but it's not the same case!

Well. Indeed, I suppose it is conceivably possible to perpetuate a scam of such epic proportions. In fact, one could argue that the credit card companies who now owe $336 million, got away with exactly that, for a while. But if this is such a scam, then the entire world must be in on it. In which case the entire fabric of my existence is a scam, and so it really doesn't matter anyway. I'm in. Twenty five bucks in the Matrix is still buys me five beers that taste as good as real ones.

Official web site for Currency Conversion Fee Antitrust Litigation Settlement


Unknown said...

They might not be paranoids. They might be astroturfers for the credit card companies, or conceivably for the lawyers. Is the amount of the settlement fixed, or does it depend on how many members of the class respond? If the amount is fixed, where does unpaid money go?
Does that sound like more paranoia? I hope not!

Jamie said...

That thought did cross my mind. Honestly, though, I don't have the patience to read all that crap to find out where the extra money would go. But, it did say that the $25 that I so richly deserve could be reduced it TOO MANY people file claims.

I have long held that the vast majority of class action law suits, are simply instruments for underutilized lawyers to increase their paychecks, since usually the class members get crap, and the lawyers make a pile.

But in this case, real cash damages are going back to the victims. It seems like one of the rare good ones.