6 Companies That Make Money Solving Problems (They Made Up)
They say that sex sells, but when it comes to sales techniques, sex has nothing on fear. Huge swaths of our economy operate entirely on scaring people into giving up their money. And the worst part? A lot of the time their product is worthless.
So keep an eye out for companies like...
Quick question: How many times today has somebody asked you what your credit score is? Well, you're currently on the Internet, so it's probably somewhere around 400, usually by ads with sliding bars on them. We admit, your credit score determines some rather important factors in your life, such as how easily you can get a loan, or buy a house, or if that cute girl in the pop-up ad will go out with you.
According to FreeCreditReport.com, it's even worse than that: the ads say if you have a bad credit report, you'll wind up working in a seafood restaurant somehow. Even if it's due to "some hacker" stealing your identity. They're not the only website offering to give you your credit score, but FreeCreditReport.com is by far the most famous, maybe because of the way they carpet bomb the airwaves with an annoying jingle about how screwed you will be if you don't visit their website:
Holy shit, your whole career down the toilet, just because you didn't have the basic business skills to know a deal when you see one! Here's another one from them saying identity theft can keep you from ever owning a car, here's another one threatening you'll wind up working as a waiter if you don't subscribe to their service. On top of the fact that they're using goofy jingles to cover for a ludicrous threat, if you work in the food service industry these ads must royally piss you off. They threaten people that if they don't sign up for their service, they'll wind up like you.
Otherwise, they're pretty up front about what they do, right? Hell, it's right in the name? You head to their website and see your credit score for free. If it's good, then awesome; if it's bad, then... well, they're actually not very clear on what you're supposed to do then, but at least you know, right? And it didn't cost you a dime!
If you go to FreeCreditReport.com expecting a free credit report, you're in for a rather big surprise. What you're actually getting is a free seven-day trial for a credit monitoring service, which they're more than happy to renew automatically, at a rate of $14.95 a month. Not only that, but they're only sponsored (read: operated) by one of the three credit monitoring bureaus, Experian, so it's more or less impossible to get any complete credit information from them no matter what you do.
It's like ordering fries off the dollar menu, only they cost $15 and are a pumpkin.
This is all written up on their website, of course, in eye-catching blue text on a blue background in the lower left, so if you do sign up for it then you really have nobody but yourself to blame. Nah, we're just kidding, the FTC totally shoved a nightstick up Experian's ass, forcing them to pay $950,000 back in 2005.
Make a clever jingle about that, you bastards!
Speaking of which, you may also have noticed that their site now greets you with a gigantic disclaimer at the very top that the government forced them to put up there. Undeterred, they simply changed their name to FreeCreditScore.com, offered the same deal, only without the warning, with a brand new round of annoying ads to push it.
The amazing thing is, you can get your credit report completely free at AnnualCreditReport.com. You can do this once a year, which may not sound like much, but your credit score really doesn't change very rapidly. And no, there's nothing an identity-stealing hacker can do that will force you to serenade tourists at Captain Jack's Fish & Chips.
If you listen to talk radio, particularly the right-wing kind, you've heard all about gold. In these uncertain economic times, what with terrorism and communists in the White House, gold is the safest investment there is! Glenn Beck is all about gold; he'll do entire segments about the impending collapse of our economy, and between you'll hear advertisements from companies like Goldline International.
The claim is that once the economy collapses, all those precious dollars that you've been holding onto in the bank will be completely worthless. $34.76 down the drain, just like that. That's why the price of gold is skyrocketing! Better get in while you can!
Wait! Don't eat that solid gold egg just yet!
Thankfully, companies like Goldline have your back. They'll take that potentially worthless money of yours and exchange it for precious metals, like gold and silver. Once the shit hits the fan and the world turns into Mad Max, it's cold, hard, silver and gold that people are going to be clamoring for, instead of worthless, green, cocaine-laced slips of paper.
Wait a second. If paper money is about to become worthless, why does Goldline accept it as a form of payment? Their whole business model is based on convincing us gold will be the only valuable means of exchange, while at the exact same time they're giving away all of their valuable gold and absorbing as much worthless cash as they possibly can.
Goldline is apparently more charitable than most charities.
First of all, gold usually isn't that great of an investment--ask anybody who bought some in 1981 and then lost half their money when its value plummeted for the next two decades. Sure, the value of gold is sky-high right now. And as the real estate market demonstrated, if something is highly valued right now, that means it will eventually keep rising and rising forever and ever! So what do you think it means when the professionals start trying to convince uneducated Glenn Beck fans to buy their gold? It means they're hoping you're stupid enough to be the one to get caught holding it when the bottom falls out. And if you really believe in the "collapse of society" stuff, what are you going to want more during an apocalypse: a big pile of gold, or some food? Unless the gold is that chocolate kind, you'll probably want to go with the latter.
This doesn't really help anybody.
The value of gold is just as arbitrary as paper money. If you want something to trade after the end of the world, stockpile cigarettes, bullets and toilet paper. Bling will not be a priority when the zombies come.
According to penis scientists, a whopping 45 percent of men are dissatisfied with their size.
No amount of hand washing can cleanse a dick scientist's sense of shame.
Following with the "it's not a lie if the commercial is silly" technique of the Free Credit Report folks, you have these ads showing a depressed husband and his bitter, unsatisfied wife, both equally unhappy about the laughable size of his manhood. Fortunately, the ads says there are completely safe herbal supplements like Enzyte, whose spokesman is so goddamn satisfied with the results that he's always smiling, because the only thing he can think about now is the baseball bat he's packing between his legs.
His smile says, "I have an obnoxiously large dong." But his eyes cry out for help.
In case anyone was wondering what "natural male enhancement" means, the ads give us a scene where Mr. Enzyte's swim trunks fall off, and the neighborhood ladies look on in amazement. And for just $99 a month, flashing your penis at the neighborhood women could also result in stunned silence.
Let's back up for a moment. Why do you want a bigger penis? To impress other dudes in the locker room? So you can wear bicycle shorts seven days a week with confidence? No, it's because you think you need it to pleasure sexual partners.
Well, stop worrying. While about half of men are unhappy with their size, only 15 percent of women say they have a problem with the size of their partner's brigadier general. Given that women are able to stretch and conform to most shapes and sizes, and that you've only got about three inches to go before you reach most of the major nerve endings, there's not much reason, physiologically, why a large member would be any better.
Most damning, though, is the fact that women aren't so concerned with how large it is, compared to what you do with it. If you really want to please your woman, you just need to learn some expert sex techniques.
Maybe try some role-playing.
Luckily for you, you have the Internet.
As for Enzyte, you can probably guess that it doesn't actually have the ability to make your penis bigger (if it did, the company's profits would dwarf Exxon-Mobil and Wal-Mart combined). When the company got taken to court, one of the executives freely admitted that they may have stretched the truth a little, and by that he meant absolutely everything was a lie. The pills were endorsed by doctors who didn't exist, supported by statistics that weren't real and backed by a customer satisfaction survey that might as well have been taken from the activities page of Highlights magazine for how helpful it was.
Blatant false advertising is frankly a "Goofus"-esque atrocity.
While such a scam might have been enough for the average man, founder Steve Warshak took it to another level. Anyone who purchased Enzyte was enrolled into a "continuity program" without their knowledge, where they were continually charged and sent more Enzyte. Not only that, but canceling was purposefully made as difficult as possible; many men were told that they could not obtain a refund unless they got a doctor to verify that their penis was still laughably small. The man behind Enzyte, when all was said and done, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for "prey on perceived sexual inadequacies of customers."
We thank them for throwing in the word "perceived."
As we all know, a privileged white woman in a nice, warm suburban neighborhood is in more danger than an unbroken arm in a Steven Seagal film--at least, that's what Broadview Security would like you to believe, a company who sells alarm systems.
Here's a typical Broadview ad. A woman, at home, vulnerable. Suddenly she sees a shady looking character at the door...
...he smashes his way in, clearly with some rape on his mind...
And by the time she makes it up to her bedroom three seconds later, the handsome, strong protectors at Broadview are calling to make sure she's OK:
As easy as that. Just set the alarm whenever you're at your whitest and most femalest, and you're instantly protected from any would-be assaulters. Help is always just seconds away!
The commercial seen above can be best described as the "edited" version. The real-life scenario has a number of extra scenes, including:
The 45 to 60 seconds between when an alarm is tripped and when it's actually able to go off, during which time her intruder has free, alarm-less reign over the house; the 30 seconds between when the alarm went off and when Broadview calls, during which she tried to call 911 herself but her phone line was busy transmitting the alarm signal; and the eight minutes (on average) between when Broadview called the police and they actually arrived, during which time the bad guy could have carefully selected the knife he wanted to use to remove her kidneys.
Don't get us wrong, a security system has a number of advantages and benefits, but protecting a woman from a deranged rapist in her kitchen is not one of them by any means. That's why the ads show the attacker getting freaked out by the alarm and running away--if they actually showed Broadview stopping him in any way, it would be a lie.
He could potentially trip over the yard sign, we guess.
And while we joke about things like violent knife-wielding rapists in your kitchen, keep in mind that even that part is misleading. The rate of violent crimes is actually decreasing in America, and has been for several decades now. You wouldn't know it from watching Broadview's ads, obviously, because they've found that fear sells very very, well.
Somewhere, right now, a homeowner is getting a knock on the door. It's a contractor who was passing by, and he just wanted to let them know that their house is crumbling down around them. Their roof has hail damage and is about to collapse. They have mold in their walls that is going to poison them and their children in their sleep.
"You see, this is a real problem."
Mold is the big one right now. Ever since Hurricane Katrina, the problem of mold and moisture has become a favorite for these guys. They can test your air with their whatsits and doodads and find the amount of mold spores in it, or maybe they'll just point to the corner of your windowsill, and declare that you're giving your family emphysema or syphilis or whatever it is that you get from mold.
"Boom! Anal fissures."
The solution? Let them tear out your walls at tremendous expense.
And you're in luck, because now is the perfect time to let this totally trustworthy contractor take care of the repairs for you. Right now, they've got a really great deal on whatever it is you need, but if you don't bite, the price is going to seriously skyrocket. So what are you waiting for? Reach for your wallet and hire this man. BUY THE FUCKING SERVICE DO IT NOW NOW NOW BEFORE YOU AND YOUR FAMILY DIES
Pictured: Standard operating procedure.
Of course, there are straight scam artists who'll just take a deposit and then completely disappear. But even the guys who are doing the work are often playing off a false premise.
That mold that's wreaking havoc on your family's lungs? Actually, it isn't quite as dangerous as people think. The EPA says that the worst mold does to some people is irritate their throat or eyes a bit, or maybe cause some mild problems in people with allergies or asthma. So it's not much different from exposure to your pets or the general filth you keep around your house.
Comparatively, mold is nothing to worry about.
As far as cleaning it, you may want to consider just breaking out the sponge. According to the EPA, you shouldn't be that worried about mold unless it exceeds 10 square feet, which we're pretty sure is big enough for you to pay special property taxes on it. If you ever have that much mold on hand, then you've got a burst water or sewage pipe somewhere, in which case you've hopefully already called somebody.
Roof damage is another big one, because the contractor promises he can get your homeowner's insurance to pay for it. All he has to do is show the insurance guy the damage your roof has taken, and it will cost you nothing. Then, before the insurance guy gets there, the crew goes up and damages your roof. Just a tip, if you ever see a work crew on your roof slapping the shingles with socks full of golf balls, that is not a normal thing for them to be doing. Call the cops.
Identity theft is all the rage these days, getting top billing in a number of movies as well as some cameo appearances on TV. If anyone gets their hands on your sensitive personal information, they could apply for credit cards, buy a bitchin' moped and go on a hilarious around-the-world adventure with their best friend, while your bank account is slowly drained, or your credit is ruined.
What an asshole.
Lucky for you, LifeLock is there to make sure nobody steals your identity and ruins your finances. They're so confident that their methods work that the CEO, Todd Davis, is giving out his Social Security Number to anybody who wants to see it: It's 457-55-5462. They even paint it on the side of their trucks.
So a slightly more secure person like yourself should be safe, right?
Here's a real-life example that'll show you how safe you are with LifeLock: In 2007, someone did steal Todd Davis's identity and managed to get $500 out of it. LifeLock proceeded to track the man down, video cameras (and Rottweilers, we imagine) on hand, and basically forced him to sign a pre-typed confession from the company, which would have him performing community service to make up for his crime. Once the police got word of this, they immediately leapt into action by rubbing their foreheads with their thumb and forefinger, muttering obscenities, then throwing out the case because it had been tainted by LifeLock's cavalier actions.
"Dammit, Lifelock! You're a loose cannon! The mayor's gonna have my ass for this."
Essentially, LifeLock actually allowed this man to get away with identity theft because of their supreme idiocy. The kicker: The man who used the SSN was legally retarded. On the other hand, at least we know that God has a sense of humor.
If that's not bad enough, this March, LifeLock had to settle with the Federal Trade Commission for $12 million amidst charges that they were lying about what their services could do, mainly because they were. According to the chairman of the FTC, Jon Leibowitz, LifeLock's protection "left enough holes that you could drive a truck through it," which isn't really how holes work, but whatever.
The sort of thing LifeLock protects you from is mainly people opening up new credit accounts, which is only 17 percent of existing identity theft. If someone used your identity to get medical care, a new job or even if they just took your credit card for a joyride, you wouldn't hear a thing until the bank showed up to repossess your new car that you didn't know you bought.
But if LifeLock can't protect you, then what can you do to prevent identity theft? Well, your bank and credit card company already have some pretty strict identity theft protections in place already--they're the ones who usually wind up footing the bill, after all. But beyond that there are some pretty simple steps that you can take yourself, such as getting your annual credit report, regularly checking your bank statements for odd charges and not plastering your SSN on the side of a truck and driving it through major cities.
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For more overblown paranoia, check out 5 Pathetic Groups That People Think Rule the World. Or find out what you should really be scared about, in 5 Ways You're Secretly Being Monitored.
And stop by our Top Picks (Updated 06.07.10) because if you don't, Ron Paul will rob your house.