Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Consumer: The Economics Point Of View

Consumers, from the point of view of economics, are individuals or households that "consume" goods and services produced by the economy. Considering that this includes almost everyone, the term is not just an economic term but also a political term the way it is used in everyday speech. Generally businesspeople and economists speak of "consumers" as one who consumes an aggregated commodity item with little individuality other than that expressed in the buy/not buy decision. There here is however an upcoming trend in marketing to individualize the concept. Instead of generating broad demographic and psychographic profiles of market segments, marketers are engaging in personalized marketing, permission marketing, and mass customization.

In standard microeconomic theory, a consumer is assumed to have a budget which can be spent on a range of goods and services available on the market. Under the assumption of rationality, the budget allocation is chosen according to the preference of the consumer, i.e. to maximize his or her utility function.

In time-series models of consumer behaviour, the consumer may also invest a proportion of their budget in order to gain a greater budget in future periods. This investment choice may include either fixed rate interest or risk-bearing securities.

Concern over the best interests of consumers has spawned much activism, as well as incorporation of consumer education into the school curriculum. One non-profit publication active in consumer education is Consumer Reports.

Within many selling companies "consumer" has come to be a derogatory term. Meaning "purchaser of products who is not very intelligent." This is in contrast to the meaning of customer. Which is defined as an intelligent purchaser who has power in the purchasing relationship between buyer and seller.

Monday, October 19, 2009


I’m thinking to myself while walking down the street: everywhere I go lately, I encounter advocacy. At the intersection of a one-way street and a two-way street, there is written on the sidewalk at the corner, in bold purple chalk, in front of an old white clapboard house, this sentence, “Be responsible for your own life.” I imagine that here lives a philosopher, and an advocate of responsibility. I wonder if the philosopher/advocate’s dinner was burnt while he or she kneeled on the sidewalk scratching out the message.

An SUV scoots past me advocating a lifestyle. It roars up the one way street with a variety of environmental stickers covering its bumper. An unkempt house with a lawn in the middle of the block displays a sign that advocates for a fringe mayoral candidate. A gang member advocates in hieroglyphics on a trash can left overnight on the street. Advocacy does not appear to be limited by age or by economic status. Advocates are everywhere.

Much of the media is dedicated to advocating. It advocates for liberalism or conservativism or humanism or consumerism, for animal rights, for a healthy lifestyle or to abolish a disease. Some advocates wear ribbons on their clothing, to each cause its own color. Men in suits hold Bibles wandering from house to house knocking on doors. They advocate for salvation or for membership in a church and sometimes for both.

Some advocates advocate against other advocates citing flaws in their doctrine. Some may call these finer points of debate unimportant; yet to be an advocate, one must cling to the fine points which define their correct position. Small or large these differences count and are therefore worthwhile advocating for. It is important to be right.

Advocates become fluent in the data and/or rhetoric supporting their side of an argument. Advocates are frequently deaf to data or rhetoric of the opposite point of view. It is after all time-consuming simply listening to one side. Listening to both sides is often too much of a commitment. Should there be a third side to an argument it is traumatic enough for some advocates to simply swap their ribbon for a simpler shade.

It is after all difficult to get off-message with a linear understanding and a scripted line of reasoning. Like a one-way street where all cars go in the same direction, it is dangerous not to go in the right direction. It is the responsible thing to do. However when an advocate suddenly turns into the two way traffic of an argument, what are they to do? They may be unable to negotiate skillfully guided arguments aimed in the opposite direction. It’s safer to stay in the flow, safer to steer straight ahead.

An argument can’t get out of hand on a one way street of thought. Advocates don’t want to be lured into a two-way street, the signs and arrows have told them the correct direction in which to think. A wrong turn onto a two-way argument is confusing and could spark original thought and unwanted wrong-way leanings to uncomfortable logic.

I’ll never learn how the street philosopher would define an advocate’s responsibility in life. I doubt that the sidewalk scribe would assert that advocates are singly responsible to travel in one direction for their own interests. Perhaps the philosopher would assert that responsibility requires skillful advocacy with full understanding of opposing arguments; one-way streets are seldom sufficient to arrive at a destination.


A wise man sent me this quote from by another wise man in reference to this post:

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." Aristotle.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Scams And Fraud Protection

If you are like most people, then your idea of scams is likely of crooked swindlers conning elderly victims. We tend to think that these types of things can only happen to "other people." We often think "That can't happen to me because I would never give out sensitive information to someone on the phone." Or "I would never buy a product like that." Maybe you wouldn't ever do these things, but everyone has a weakness. Whether it is greed, vanity, or even compassion, the scammers will prey on and exploit that weakness and try to defraud you.

Coming to terms with the fact that scams can happen to you is the first step in fraud prevention and identity theft protection. Most of us go through life either hoping that we will never be the victim of fraud or not really thinking about the consequences. The horrid fact is that they do happen and everyone should try to use good fraud protection techniques. Begin protecting yourself by knowing the types of frauds that are being committed and then making a conscious effort to avoid those situations. Spend some time learning about identity theft protection as many frauds and scams are designed to get your details.

Not only do their elaborate cover-ups make it difficult to notice anything suspicious, but it also makes it even more difficult to expose the crimes and report fraud, leaving them free to move on and adjust their scams and tactics, so that it will be even harder to be "found out" by the next victim. Those wishing to commit frauds will go to extreme lengths to put their criminal plans into action. It should be important to individuals to take strong measures to protect themselves against those wishing to make them a victim.

The scams are countless in today's society. The internet is an endless playground or in this case "prey ground" for scammers and frauds, making their victims much easier to access and their fraudulent dealings harder to expose. However, if you are aware that they exist, then you will be more likely to suspect and even accept that it could happen to you or someone you love. Realizing that these situations are out there and that you should practice fraud protection techniques is a huge step in your protection, online and off.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Tips to Avoid Scams on Craigslist

craigslist.org by InfoMofo on Flickr No matter what stage of moving out on your own you’re at, you’re probably using Craigslist: finding a job, finding an apartment, finding furniture for your apartment, selling your junk to pay for food… all can be done with the awesome power of the ‘list! Not to alarm you or anything, but there are SCAMMERS on Craigslist, and they want your money! Or your stuff (for free)! Or your identity!
Not everyone on Craigslist is a scammer – in fact, most people aren’t. You can continue to use the ‘list for all of your classified needs, safely, if you just pay attention to these simple tips:
  1. An offer that’s too good to be true… is. Look, if someone had the awesomest job ever that you can do from home and earn $75,000 per year… why would they be posting it on Craigslist? That’s not to say legitimate jobs aren’t posted on Craigslist, but awesome, well-paying, AND totally easy jobs aren’t. If a job is really that good and pays that well, they wouldn’t need to put up 10 ads a day about it.
  2. Don’t pay up front for anything. Yes, you’re searching Craigslist to do some sort of legitimate transaction, but don’t fork over money up front. There are several scams that rely on you giving over your money and then getting nothing for it. For example, you shouldn’t have to pay for a credit check before you even see an apartment. And for a job listing, you shouldn’t have to pay anything at all.
  3. Beware strange forms of payment. Can you mail this package to my son in Argentina and I’ll wire you the money? No. Can I pay you via Western Union more than I owe you, and you give me half of the extra money back? What?!? No! Can I pay you buy Canadian check (er, cheque)? Only if we’re in Canada! (Actually, you probably shouldn’t take a check at all, or pay with one, unless you’re dealing with an apartment security deposit. For everything else deal in cash, if at all possible.)
  4. Meet in a neutral place for small transactions. Don’t invite someone over to your house to buy an iPod from them. If they’re picking up a couch, that’s one thing, but for stuff you can carry easily, meet someplace neutral, in public, and bonus points if you can find somewhere with security cameras. Take a friend with you, especially if you have someone who is kinda tall and menacing. When I sold my iPod, I took a male friend and met the buyer in a mall food court. Oh… and meet during daylight, please!
  5. Keep an eye out for pictures that don’t make any sense. Fellow personal finance blogger MapGirl recently got scammed on Craigslist, and she noticed this dead giveaway for a scam: “There was one ad that shot a kitchen view in two directions, but the cabinets weren’t the same color in both pictures. (Laminate white vs wood)”
  6. Avoid super-vague listings. Job listings that tell you absolutely nothing about the job? No thanks. I think it’s great that you’re looking for “energetic self-starters!” and all, but I need to actually know something about the job/apartment/item before I’m going to contact you.
  7. Make sure there’s some form of contact information. Yes, a legitimate listing might use just the anonymized email address that Craigslist offers, but most will give some other form of contact information. Look for a phone number, real email address, or link to a (legitimate) website.
  8. Familiarize yourself with Craigslist’s Scam Tips and Personal Safety Tips. And report any scams you come across, before anyone else gets scammed. The details of suspected scams should be emailed to abuse@craigslist.org and if you’re sure a listing is a scam, the Craigslist Scam Tips page has information you need to contact the Federal Trade Commission (or the Canadian PhoneBusters hotline).
Remember: the majority of people on Craigslist are normal people just trying to complete a transaction. But there are a few scammers and they can be, at times, unfortunately clever. Keep a weather eye on the listings and you’ll be fine!