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A powerful expose that calls for some sort of action
, January 8, 2008
This review is from: Gotcha Capitalism: How Hidden Fees Rip You Off Every Day-and What You Can Do About It (Paperback)
Technology writer Bob Sullivan has compiled a powerful accounting of the various ways that American consumers are routinely being screwed by companies large and small. The driving force behind this explosion of unfair business practices is computer technology and the shift to an online/database economy: economic transactions are essentially invisible now, and it is much easier for profit-driven companies to simply make up a bunch of fees or "service charges" when no actual services are being provided, and tack them onto our already-expensive bills. Even that tiny fraction of consumers who figure out the scams will find it hard to get the bogus fees refunded, and the vast majority of consumers will either be unaware of how they're being ripped off, or will be too tired or busy to object.
Sullivan explains and documents with great clarity how companies have scientifically researched the most effective methods for hiding bogus fees, and what the tipping point are, so that they steal tiny amounts from millions of customers, but in ways that these customers either won't detect, or understand. And it doesn't matter if you catch one company ripping you off: they all do it, so there's really nowhere for consumers to turn. Don't like your cell phone company? Of course not, but is it worth it to drop them and go to another? Probably not, since they're all total crooks.
While this book does a great job cataloging these injustices, it leaves open the question of what we can actually do about it. The book promises readers that they can save $1000.00 if they know how to guard against various unfair business practices. What is really needed, however, is legal protection against these fraudulent and deceptive practices. Hopefully this book may do for digital-age consumers what "Silent Spring" did for the environmental movement: spur politicians, citizens and citizen activists to rein in the insane greed of these large and powerful companies, and pass legislation that has some actual teeth to it. Otherwise, the hopelessness and passivity that these companies are counting on will continue, and we will all lose out.
I definitely recommend that as many people as possible read this book, take it to heart, and get our leaders to do something to correct the problems it describes. (Joe Sixpack)
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