Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sap—Oh, no!

Maybe my humiliation will serve to remind others to be wary.


By JOELLEN COLLINS

I am not referring in my headline to the luscious "sap" we can smell on Christmas trees this season. Instead, I am noting an unfortunately stupid series of events in which I engaged, this supposedly sophisticated lady I fancy being.

I'm not sure I want to reveal this naïveté to the world, but you who have read my column in the past know more about me, both negative and positive, than, in retrospect, I should have revealed. Can't change the old lady, though, so here goes a confession that will embarrass me but perhaps help someone else.

I usually avoid any Internet appeals for cheap products and items that seem too good to be true (they usually are). For example, getting "a free laptop" for some minor service is a pitch I have successfully ignored, armed with my supposed wisdom and life experience. However, recently, one of the airlines I use (Southwest, the cheapest way to visit my grandson and other members of my San Francisco Bay Area family), appeared to be offering two free tickets for "completing a short survey." I was hooked, even though I thought I knew better. After all, I rationalized, I have built a relationship with one of my favorite airlines—good people, no change or baggage charges, and lots of mileage accumulated. They can't be fooling me, and I am savvy enough to be careful.

Alas, one early morning after checking my emails and Facebook page, I came across the appeal I had ignored before: the tickets on Southwest. "Oh, let's try it," I thought. I entered a maze of conflicting appeals. After swearing that I used Facebook regularly, assuring, I thought, one of the reasons I would be given free tickets, I was sent to yet another appeal—something like (I don't want to research this anymore for exact language and get charged for my efforts): "Just click two of the trial offers below and you will be eligible for the final prize." I clicked on two mild options: Netflix, which I had been contemplating anyway. Oddly, I was rejected because I was "already a member" (not so). Then I clicked on a credit report option and something else that seemed cheap. Plus, I was informed that I could cancel within 14 days.

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Later inspection showed that the free benefits didn't apply during that trial time. For example, a $100 gas card prize is issued as a $10 voucher each month, not to be activated until one gets the certificates in the mail (after 14 days, of course) at which time charges begin to accrue for having become a member of the association that sponsors this and other retail "bargains." Also, there are a limited number of gas stations that honor this card. It might have been nice to know this before one signs up. People like me ("stupida," as an Italian policeman in Perugia once called me) may often order the required items unaware that there are so many hidden conditions that the effort is not worth the result.

Bad news followed. I was congratulated for being within reach of the prizes; all I had to do was order some other things I didn't need anyway. "Just another step," I was informed. I opted out.

I was stilled charged a minor sum for the items I had chosen, but after the grace period, when I called one service I thought I had only tentatively ordered and thus didn't record, they would not refund me. I paid almost $100 early on in the process before I realized that wasn't going to be enough.

I am forwarding this to Southwest (if I can get through, since I can't directly phone the agency that handles all this false advertising.) Duh!

So I reveal myself as an Internet sap, just one other humble member of the general public who succumb to these schemes. Maybe my humiliation will serve to remind others to be wary.

I have spent my life concerned about time and money: I count my minutes on earth as precious, and I won't gamble because I don't want to lose. Why I thought that merely answering a survey and paying "a few bucks" for a terrific reward was something I would fall for is beyond my ken. I can blame it on seasonal fatigue. Perhaps it is a sign that I'm losing more than a little bit of money: Maybe I'm losing my mind!




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