A few days ago I received a notice from an organization of which I’ve been a member for many years. It said: “As directed by the President, I have upgraded your membership, FREE OF CHARGE. This is a special courtesy to you in recognition of your continued membership.” Acceptance required only my signature on the enclosed acknowledgement. At the risk of looking a gift horse in the mouth, I scrutinized the offering and there, buried in the fine print, I found the hooker – “free of charge” extends only 94 days. At the end of that time my upgraded membership renews at a newly increased rate unless I specifically instruct otherwise. As for the benefits of the upgraded membership: a few meager tidbits of no particular concern; the annual dues increase: from $69 to $117, up about 70%.

There’s no mystery as to the offer’s intent. It’s a scheme to peddle a grossly overpriced product disguised as a benefit. This artifice, taught in marketing schools throughout the nation, is known as Opt-in/Opt-out marketing. It’s based on the premise that a predetermined portion of persons who accept an initially attractive offer will, if required to perform some function, fail to cancel out when the benefits end. The task of its designers is adjusting the parameters so to predict, within statistical accuracy, what percentage will neglect, for whatever reason, to opt out.

Though I regularly receive such duplicitous offerings from various companies – an even more egregious proposal arrived from a major bank the following day – I don’t normally take offense at deceptive pitches. I fully expect the nation’s financial community to operate in a high-handed manner, almost as a matter of course. My surprise was being treated in this fashion by an organization for which I had regard. However, perhaps it’s to be expected. It appears that as an entity grows in size, the activities of its marketing department become more remote from its fundamental business or service operation. And as these departments tend to hire persons with marketing school degrees, all taught the same techniques, the results are inevitable.

A concluding thought: It’s a hostile world out there, so you must be continually on guard to avoid being ripped off. And above all, be aware that there are no sure guidelines by which to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys.