At any given time, anyone can be ripped-off with devastating consequences from losing money, property, or even one's reputation within minutes.
Think of the popular Nigerian prince scam, cryptocurrency investment scams on social media platforms, pyramid schemes, and visa and job scams. Not to mention the “act now or else SMS and phone calls”.
Some shady tactics are easy to spot and dodge. However, some are harder to spot since these tactics are new and few are aware of, or they're 'acceptable' white lies.
Nevertheless, there are things you can look out for and safeguards you can take to learn how to be watchful and protect yourself. Now, let's explore what signs you ought to watch out for, so you can readily identify sales and marketing tactics that are up to no good.
Upselling is a common practice where customers are encouraged to spend more on a more expensive, upgraded, or premium version over what a customer initially chose or had budgeted.
Here’s how to recognise upselling.
Look out for situations where an institution, business, or seller is biased toward what they offer (especially when you ask for alternatives). This is often a profit-over-quality tactic. The sale is the end goal, not customer satisfaction.
The Con: You spend more and don't enjoy the shopping experience.
Say, for instance, you're at a restaurant and have planned to spend Ksh800.
You have your menu pick, and the waiter(ess) states that you'll not be satisfied but if you spend Ksh200 extra, you'll get a satisfying meal.
With the example above, the red flag is the waiter(ess) focus on highlighting why your menu choice is wrong, and the waiter(ess) choice) is what you should want.
The Solution: Before any purchases, be clear on what you want to buy - the size, quantity, colour, price or price range, brand name, and so on.
Be firm and stand by your choice: if what you want to buy isn't in stock, consider waiting or research alternatives and budget accordingly.
A golden rule to remember when dealing with sales and marketing or promo personnel is - if you don’t understand what you’re reading, seeing, and hearing, don’t buy into it!
The Con: By using unclear, sophisticated, professional vocabulary to wear a buyer down to the point of reconsidering their purchase and agreeing to the seller's terms. Jargon also gives the sense of expertise, which a salesperson might use to upsell because the buyer is unaware.
The Solution: Make it clear that you want all conversations to be clear and concise since this is a communication criterion that every seller should follow.
Ask! Ask! Ask! Especially in areas where customer communication is difficult to understand and internally focused to favour a business.
Here’s a scenario, imagine how nerve-racking it would be to buy a plot without vetting the property history, the realtor, and any other necessary paperwork. Now, imagine how much more frustrating it is to know that these documents exist and you have no (or) limited opportunity to review them.
Undoubtedly, this is a sure red flag.
So, before getting into how transactional documentation protects you from getting ripped off, let’s start by looking at what buyer information everyone should know. Namely, there are two parts to contracts.
The Con: Human beings are hard-wired to avoid adversity and pursue pleasure. The con works to skip over parts that could cause you (the buyer) to doubt, question and possibly postpone or cancel a purchase.
As such, two popular ways this ploy plays out are as follows:
The Solution: Read every document thoroughly before signing or signing off on anything.
The truth is that there are many pretexts as to why sellers and buyers rush the trading process. From excitement to anxiety to more ominous reasons, all to keep one from seeing what is actually in a document one is about to sign.
As such, the practical start-to-finish approach to avoid being ripped off is to practise due diligence. That means reading through carefully and verifying by asking the seller to clarify and get an unbiased second opinion from an industry expert that isn’t vested in your purchases. For instance, if you’re unsure about the specs of a new gadget - talk to an IT expert or someone you trust that is tech-savvy. They'll be able to recommend features to look out for and probably recommend a reliable dealer to consider for a worthwhile purchase.
To recap, the con in point 3 is about obscuring the document review process where transactional documents are available.
For example, exclusion of or provision of incomplete sales contracts, receipts, invoices, quotes, and warranty forms.
The Con: In contrast, however, at this point, the rip-off is performed to obscure your due-diligence efforts by not availing the relevant transactional documents at all or in entirety by claiming delay, loss, or non-existence.
The Solution: Remember that you cannot rely on nay-say and that words do not pay the bills.
Insist on reading those "unimportant" disclosures before signing anything, and refuse the so-called "gentlemen's agreement." tactics.
For example, you wouldn't pay and trust a vehicle salesperson's word as a guarantee that you can own a car you haven't seen or have proof that one is available for sale, would you? No.
In Kenya, the smart plan of action is to examine car registration and ownership on the NTSA TIMS portal, collateral registry searches on the eCitizen portal, KEBS search, and KRA custom duty search - all with the assistance of a legal expert and a reputable mechanic.
Word-Of-Advice: When purchasing large-ticket things such as property or a car, avoid using cash. Always utilize bankers' cheques, which have the added benefit of being simpler to transact with, safer, and more traceable.
Be intentional with your money by prioritizing research, verifying, and being patient in every transaction.
Consider goods that need transactional documentation, proof of ownership, a return/refund policy, warranty access, and insurance (in some cases). Electronics, vehicles, auto parts, furniture, IT gadgets, phones, appliances, and large-scale services such as interior design or repair services, to mention a few.
Last but not least, this fifth sign is well-framed by this quote by Linda Musgrove (author of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Trade Shows).
"Never ignore your gut feeling; if something doesn't feel right, there is often a reason. In that case, simply move on to the next prospect".
Now, let’s dig deeper into why the first sign of being ripped off is that tight, uneasy feeling you feel in the pit of your stomach.
The Con: This swindle tactic works by gaslighting - a deliberate, strategic tactic where sellers cause a customer to question their feelings. For example, a marketer or salesperson may cause you to distrust your recollection of information they shared with you (the customer), which leads you to think you’re delusional or wrong.
Once you are emotionally and mentally vulnerable, the seller can encourage you to abandon your original purchase decision and spend more on their suggested “better” version.
The Solution: Doing your research, contemplating your purchasing experiences, and listening to your gut feeling to keep you from making uncertain and uninformed purchasing choices.
The first step in avoiding a financial rip-off is being honest about your spending choices. Some spending habit changes may be all the solutions needed to evade costly experiences, including those that rightly justify a high price tag.
You’d rather deal with a little buyer's remorse than feel like a fool for ignoring your gut feeling and not taking your time to be thorough.
The next time you feel something isn't right with the sales process or the marketer or salesperson, trust your instincts and walk away.
Overall, stay up to date on the ongoing scams. Stay away from shortcuts to bypass due process; it’s just not worth it!