Schemes & Scams

During recessions there is almost always a rise in the reports of scams. People get sucked into get-rich-quick schemes and fall for outright cons. Sometimes it’s greed or laziness, and sometimes it’s more complicated. But it’s generally motivated by a sense of just not.knowing.what.to.do

It’s really easy to assume this only happens to dumb people. The reality is that we fall for scams all the time, they differ only in name. And there are so many…

-Your ‘start-up‘ is a scam. Especially yours, you, the self-described “entrepreneur.”
-Reading Malcolm Gladwell articles is a scam
Traveling is a scam.
These colleges are a scam. Grad school is a scam.
-Ebooks are scams. Reading and writing.
Productivity blogs are a scam.
-Blogging is a scam.
-Adwords/SEO/Passive income/Multi-level marketing businesses are a scam. Wait, sorry, they are pyramid schemes.
Umair is a scam.

What I mean to see is that they are mostly bullshit. Promises we’ve been sold that simply cannot and will not deliver. Scams exploit the special confidence we place in our own judgment but have never actually earned. The critical ingredient is that a victim thinks they’ve found a loophole or advantage that the rest of the world missed. Because it’s this little confirmation of their sense of superiority that carries them over any doubts or objections. (Which is why you got all indignant when I called your start-up a scam)

One of the last steps in a con is called the “cool off” and it’s how an insiderman pacifies the mark after he’s been fleeced. For instance, they might arrange to be raided by a fake cop and let the mark flee thinking he is narrowly avoiding arrest. Or they might tear up the check as a token of their honesty, only to find later it was a duplicate and the original had already been cashed. The point is that a truly masterful conman never lets the gaffe know that he’s a victim. In fact, the idea is to part ways with them thinking they’ve walked away on top.

Of course, this is also key of so many of the scams above. What’s bold about them though is that most don’t even bother with the pretense of a specific payoff or an explicit promise. Who do you even hold accountable? The reward is so vague – “we’re creating thick value” – that you’ll never know you’ve been fucked. And you’ll never have anything to hold up as proof that you were besides the uneasy feeling that you were sold a bill of goods that wasn’t quite right.

The most disappointing part of internet has been watching young people breathlessly “discover” the same scams and charlatans that have always existed and convince themselves they are a revolutionary. It’s like a rookie reporter congratulating themselves for writing a trend piece that they’re too self-absorbed and young to know gets written every single year.

We should wonder why instead of getting more cynical, we’ve become wide-eyed optimists. Stop pretending its a “transition.” It is a CONTRACTION. Things are going away that will never come back. You will not own a house. You will not get Social Security. You will not get health insurance. Not the way your parents did, at least. Sure, the technology lowers barriers to entry in many ways, but they are much much higher in the ways that matter most.

A generation that’s been coddled and then suddenly kicked in the stomach should question what it finds attractive. At least believing that you won the Nigerian lottery has a naive innocence; it’s refreshingly free of the pathetic entitlement in living with your parents while you’re ‘building your personal brand.’ Now is not the time to travel or weigh your options but to get serious and acknowledge the magnitude of the disaster we woke up into and are stuck with.

Resist the temptation of get-rich-quick schemes. There is no easy way. Avoid what makes you feel like you’re onto something that makes you smarter than everyone else (see: Gladwell articles). That’s what the bait tastes like.

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.