COMMENTARY 763.1: Dishonest Merchants Don’t Deserve Your Business

Some time ago, I received a handwritten message on a yellow self-stick note attached to a torn-out page from a magazine about a new book. The note said, “Mike, thought you might be interested.” It was signed “L.” It was sent in a non-business envelope with a stamp, but no return address. My assistant thought it was a personal message from a friend and put it on top of my correspondence.

It wasn’t from anyone I knew. It was a marketing trick to sell the book.

I’m sure you’ve seen other deceptive ploys: mailings disguised as telegrams, urgent “personal” messages, announcements that you’ve won something, window envelopes whose interior looks like a check. An especially audacious variation is the salesperson who calls pretending he knows you. To get through the screening process, he or she will shamelessly try to con your secretary with “Oh, he knows what it’s about” or “He asked me to call.”

These are all lies and deceptions, but they’re used because they work. The people who send them don’t care about their credibility or who they offend. No one knows who they are.

While one can appreciate resourceful techniques, clever dishonesty doesn’t make an action less despicable. I make it a rule to never do business with anyone who uses such techniques.

What’s the harm? The harm is that someone has invaded my life with a lie, depriving me of the choice to decide what I will read and whom I will talk to. Worse, it erodes trust and builds cynicism. Dishonest merchants don’t deserve your business.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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Comments 10

  1. Indeed, dishonesty and deceptive practices used by merchants do not deserve our business. That is why I and many others are withdrawing funds from Wells Fargo, Chase, Citibank, Bank of America. I have used all four, but I have just opened an account in a bank that did not use deception to gain loans and process them. Honesty in our dealings is a precious part of business and deserves to be rewarded. Dishonest merchants should be left alone. Paying fines has begun; maybe prosecutions will follow. But my business has left.

  2. I find it ironic that this story criticizes a deceptive ploy that was similar to a bait and switch tactic, when this story, by not saying something about having been “previously sent on whatever date” had the same effect on me when I realized I’d read this story before. It seemed to me slightly deceptive. Perhaps a little dishonest, I felt, to put this story on the e-letter as ‘new’ when it’s actually being recycled. I’m all for recycling, but I felt a little put off, perhaps indignant – like the author of the story.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I’m surprised and embarrassed that we have led you to believe that every commentary is fresh and new. I have written well over 2,000 commentaries in the 15 years I’ve been doing this and I frequently redraft or even re-use as previously published ones that I think are still valuable and that most readers will not have seen. We have had a clear statement of that fact as a notice on the newsletter if that is no longer there I am sorry and will be sure we re-instate it. I’m sorry you I did something to cause you to feel deceived.

      1. I am relatively new to receiving these emails. I appreciate the recycling process; otherwise, I may not have received the benefit of these topics unless prompted. I also appreciate the process because sometimes I need reminding or something different will grab my attention that I may have overlooked or it may not have been applicable the first time. Thank you.

  3. Agreed! I received that same letter with the ‘lift-note’ and after examining the sender envelope, the solicitation immediately went into the garbage. Dishonesty in business practice is a serious breach of trust with the consumer and marketplace. It is up to us to lead the change, by leveraging our individual (and collective) power – thoughtfully choosing where, how and what we ‘finance’ through our purchases, investments, charitable giving, etc. If we do this daily, over the course of our lives, the compounding effect will prove most powerful.

  4. Thanks for this story. I never thought about those fishing mails this way. But you’re right… they are dishonest and I will continue just ignoring them.
    I would like to recommend you and your assistant, please be really careful with the correspondance in a non-business envelope with a stamp, but no return address. I’m not panicking but it’s better to be aware of all the bad things people can do through out this via.

  5. Let’s also not forget about the brick and mortar merchants who are dishonest or careless, which is close to dishonesty if you ask me. I recently went to a store called SureFoot to buy new ski boots. I had purchased boots from them 10 years ago and had been happy with them. This time they tried to sell me a new $200 insole, which I already had, and then claimed that my foot had changed in size by showing me an image of someone else’s foot! I had to argue with them to convince them that the image was not my foot. I ended up leaving the store without purchasing anything, although I was a prior customer, which should be harder to lose. Unfortunately management and personnel can change, so you can’t assume that a good business will stay that way. Thanks for the reminder not to patronize those who don’t use honest tactics to get business.

  6. Another dishonest tactic I have encountered are phone calls regarding my credit card account – they pose as callers from my account holder and are offering to lower my interest rate. I don’t own a credit card and haven’t had one for years. I have asked them to remove me from their call list as a result, but the calls continue … from different numbers, as if they are first-time callers! It is ridiculous, frustrating, and highly unethical.

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