Thursday, March 09, 2006

Just to Confirm

I think of myself as somewhat savvy, having grown up on the mean streets of Chicago's South Side. Well, okay, the streets weren't so mean in my neighborhood, but you get my point: it's not easy to pull one over on me. And yet I recently fell victim to a very small scam of sorts, which was easy enough to extricate myself from; I got enrolled in a stupid "credit protection" program I hadn't intended to become enrolled in, and it only took one phone call to get me out. But as the president says, if fool me can't get fooled again. So when I got a call the other day with the same scamlet (something is rotten in a call center in India) I heard them out just to see how it was that they fooled me before. Though I am not a semanticist, or even a linguist, I feel that the mechanism of the scam poses interesting implicature problems. Here's how it works:

1. They call and explain the program in rapid, excruciating detail.

2. They explain that you can read all about the excruciating details because they will send you information after you enroll.

3. They say that in order to send you that information they need to verify your address. Then they read you your address and ask if it is correct. If you say yes, congratulations! You are now paying $9.95 a month for a useless service.

The reason this is aboveboard is that the people running this think that by confirming your address, you are implying consent for enrollment. How's that? Simple; you are confirming your address so they can send you the information. Aha, but they already said that they send you the information once you enroll. If you confirm your address, it means you want them to send the information, which means you must want to enroll.

But I don't buy it. Somehow I feel like a step is missing, and that at some level, despite the reasoning I just layed out, confirming your address is not the same as saying you want them to send the information. I'm not even sure saying you want the information entails you want to enroll.

There are a few other odd quirks about how they go about doing this, most of which I think are designed to confuse and to keep you from figuring out the dubious logic behind your scam. First of all, it's one of those cases where the call center is clearly in India, but they use a fake "American" name; my caller called himself "John Adams," which I found amusing. But often these people using fake American names are also faking an American accent, and doing a halfway decent job. Not my John Adams, who made no effort to sound like a John Adams. In fact, his accent and the speed of his delivery combined to make him somewhat hard to understand. But the real trick (and this happenned both times) was that, right before reading my address, the callers took on a very humble and apologetic tone: "Sir, I have to read you your address now. It's part of my job." At this point, if you aren't already confused, you will be, and you'll even feel obligated to have your address read to you. He has to read it. It's part of his job. I certainly don't want John Adams to get fired on my account.

I write this not as a warning, but because I think it's interesting, especially because it's a major bank that has undoubtedly concocted this scheme with the intention of fooling people into agreeing to something they don't intend to. But what is most interesting is that the argument form is, I think, invalid. They aren't fooling us into agreeing. They're fooling themselves.


Chance said...

That's awesome. Someone has to figure out how this works, and you did. You kind of have to chuckle at the subtle deviousness of it.

Ben said...

Subtle deviousness indeed, heh heh. (That was me chuckling.)