I Just Got a Dollar in the Mail (or, Do Not Sell Your Privacy to Scarborough Research)
No really, I got a dollar in the mail today. Cash money. A 2003 $1 United States Federal Reserve Note, legal tender across this great nation and on the black markets of several lesser nations whose own currencies are next to worthless.
Now if you were raised like I was, your mama probably told you never to send cash through the mail. That’s because in the unlikely event that the envelope is lost or stolen, there is no way to stop payment or track it the way you can with a check. So naturally, I was curious about the sender whose own mama apparently didn’t care enough to give him/her the same wise advice.
The sender is some entity called Scarborough, and along with the $1 bill they sent a letter (English on one side, Spanish on the other, because evidently every other immigrant group that ever came to America doesn’t count, but don’t get me started on that), a short survey, and a postage-paid return envelope. The letter informed me that if I simply completed said survey and sent it back to them in said envelope, they would send me $5.
I’ll take scams for $1000, Alex.
A quick internet search reveals that Scarborough Research of Coral Springs, Florida, and business addresses, has been a complaint magnet for some time because of their aggressive telephone practices and refusal to honor people’s requests to stop calling. The Better Business Bureau of West Florida has handled 166 such complaints in the last 3 years, 74 of those in the last 12 months (yet it still manages to give the company an A+ rating, apparently because all those complaints were “closed,” i.e. resolved). Others have made their feelings known via web sites like Complaints.com, ReviewsTalk, and Complaints Board. A 2011 Chicago Tribune article addresses the company’s annoying practices. And that was just on the first page of search results.
Apparently, if I were to fill out this company’s survey (which includes giving them my home address and phone number), not only would I get $5, but I would also “agree that Scarborough may contact [me] about future surveys and other research opportunities.”
In other words, for the cost of a coffee and doughnut, I would be selling my right to be free of the persistent and intrusive rudeness described in all those links above. So it isn’t a scam. It’s just unethical business practice, which can feel just as bad to the victims.
Obviously, plenty of people take the bait, having no idea what they’re getting themselves into. Why else would a company send thousands of dollar bills to complete strangers (mine was addressed to “Resident”) if it didn’t get the attention of enough people to make it worth their while? And that’s not including the additional $5 for each sucker who signs up. You would think that wouldn’t be enough compensation for someone to give up his or her privacy, but the truth is that all of us give it up all the time for nothing.
- Have you ever used a web site that required you to agree to receive email solicitations as a condition of proceeding?
- Have you ever installed a smartphone app that required permission to access your contacts, calendar, or other information stored on the device?
- Have you ever signed up for a store rewards or frequent shopper program whose terms included collecting data about your shopping habits and purchase history?
Those are just three ways you forfeit your privacy, but there are many more. We go along with it because we want the benefits that come with that web site or app or rewards program. Those of us who are more careful and agree to such terms only if we believe the company to be reputable are deluding ourselves that our information is guaranteed never to be abused by them or someone else. If you don’t believe me, refresh your memory about the antics of the ironically named National Security Agency.
Is it possible to fully participate in today’s society without giving up our privacy? Probably not, unless tens of millions of people decide to stop availing themselves of 21st century conveniences that an entire generation has never lived without. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t avoid other intrusions. I’m willing to give up something for the safety and convenience of a GPS app when I’m far from home, but not for a lousy $5.
If you want to pay off my mortgage, then we’ll talk.