Does Caveat Emptor Apply When it's for Free?

Tom Hymes
The current hoo-ha over pre-checked cross sales is mostly much ado about nothing, except when it isn't. Simply put, a straightforward issue when pre-checked boxes are clearly visible to the consumer and bordered by as much signage as possible becomes quickly crooked when the boxes are under the fold and far below the submit button. At that point, the accusation of consumer abuse that reflects negatively on the industry seems reasonable, no matter how much money the companies employing such practices are making. Those who argue otherwise are in most cases simply justifying money that they or their bosses are obtaining fraudulently.

But generally speaking those who use pre-checked cross sales are engaging in the exact type of aggressive marketing that merchants around the world have employed since the beginning of time and still employ today, and indeed many of the ploys used in adult are almost quaint in their efforts to deceive. If you want to get your pocket picked by a pro, which means not even knowing you were scammed, there is no finer grifter on the planet than your average everyday mainstream businessman.

I recently was snared by one such scam that is currently being perpetrated by a company spending many millions of dollars advertising on TV. As wary as I am about these things, they got me hook, line and sinker and though I succeeded in getting my money back (after calling several times and threatening to file a report) I do feel as if I didn't fully employ caveat emptor vigilance and that I am at least partly to blame.

It's not a good feeling, especially since I wasn't buying anything and didn't give my credit card to anyone. I was ordering something that I thought was free because it was advertised as free with no fine print in sight. I was even sent away from the page where I knew hidden costs were involved to a site which I was explicitly told had no hidden costs, in a highly sophisticated (and in this case successful) attempt to confuse me, the consumer. Without even providing any financial information to anyone, one of my credit cards was nonetheless charged and I didn't realize it for months.

I'm too old to have any illusions about the lengths people will go to make money, and have developed a level of cynicism that holds trebly true for the adult industry, which over the past decade has indulged in its share of consumer rip offs, many involving the fluid leveraging of the promise of free. I also am well aware that the industry is seeing a sharp increase in scam-type behavior, with some of the methods old as the hills while others are new and creative.

But with Wall Street in a shambles, I expect to see more money eyeing adult as a potential haven during the hard times. We've already seen that happening but expect it to intensify. Personally, I don't think this trend if it persists will bring a greater level of maturity to the business. To the contrary, the adult entertainment industry reflects the sense of insecurity that so many economic sectors are currently experiencing. The difference is that there is no huge spotlight on the way we do business, and even if there were we proceed with lesser expectations than other marketplaces. Deserved or not, the anticipated scum factor is one reason why we are a high risk industry.

All I know is, in a world of free content the doctrine of caveat emptor is increasingly relevant, not less.