Why Make Things When You Can Just Steal?!

Fraud AlertI was talking to my editor the other day, and she mentioned that she was sending out take-down notices to some websites that had “borrowed” some of our content from one of our sites. After all these years, I still find it shocking that people steal other’s content. I know that in a lot of cases, it is just a matter of naive people who think that everything on the internet is free. But it is also a lot of people who really do know better. With my non-business approach to the internet, it isn’t the legal side of things that bothers me. I just think it is rude.

But it is very much a concern that there are so many people out on the internet who think that the way to make money is to do it on the backs of others. The truth is that it’s really cheap to hire a writer. So why not just hire a writer? The websites that do this kind of thing really do have money. Somewhere they just figured out that it would be cheaper to steal, because most places are not as careful about protecting their content as the people I work for. For example, I generally have no idea if anyone is using my content because I don’t check.

Then, of course, are the spammers who make the internet decidedly worse in the name of what must be tiny margins. Conservatives present this meme that liberals are anti-business. That is not true, of course. In general, liberals are pro-business as we normally think of business. We might have a problem with very large businesses, in as much as they abuse their power. Above all, we would like to encourage good businesses that offer value to society. But certainly since the 1980s, the dominant idea in business is to make money anyway you legally can. And if that involves getting laws changed so that truly horrible practices are legal, so be it.

I ran into this same kind of thing this week. I got a letter from the Fictitious Business Name Renewal Center. It looked just like things that come from the state of California. And it informed me that my fictitious business name was expiring. And for $150, they would renew my name. It all looks above board and the address of the company is indeed in Sacramento. Still, it was a bit fishy. The amount of $150 is pretty high — a lot higher than what I paid in the first place. And fictitious business names are dealt with on the local level, not the state. So I contacted my local office and they were very much aware of this little scam.

I actually owe $40 for the renewal, and it isn’t due until next March. The Better Business Bureau has a complaint listed. This company apparently has an F rating. On the Sonoma County fictitious business name page, at the very top is the following:

→ → Consumer Scam Alert ← ←

And if you go to Google Maps, you will see that this company is in a suburban strip mall. In fact, it might just be a box at one of those mailbox places. All very shady and unpleasant. But I assume the company is legitimate enough that it actually does do what it claims — even if the service isn’t worth a third of what they are charging. Of course, our conservative friends would tell us it is worth exactly what people pay for it. (According to Sonoma County, some companies charge as much as $500 for this “service.”)

What bugs me about the whole thing is the idea of it. Rather than come up with a useful product or service, these people come up with a scam. According to Sonoma County, they will send me an actual renewal notice in about four months. So the Fictitious Business Name Renewal Center offers absolutely no value whatsoever. This may not meet the legal standard for fraud, but it is fraud by my standards — and by the standards of most people, I would think. These are not desperate people. The operation is sophisticated and highly calculated. It has been going on for years. And it is perfectly legal — like much else in the business world.

2 thoughts on “Why Make Things When You Can Just Steal?!

  1. I actually always wondered how these scams weren’t prosecuted feverishly. So they provide a real service — they just act as a middleman and charge you more for what you could do for yourself through reputable institutions.

    God, if that isn’t a metaphor for privatizing everything, I don’t know what is. And naturally now it’s not just businesses cheating customers by acting as a middleman for government service (like the scum who file 1040EZs for you and take a fee), it’s businesses charging to “help” you deal with other businesses.

    Now that you point it out (and why it’s “legal”), I imagine it’s everywhere. Student loans. Setting up “payment plans” to deal with municipal fees. Deregulation really spurs creativity, doesn’t it?

    • As I recall, the seventh ring of hell was for usury. But now, usury is just considered part of the great free market. It’s clear that in a reasonably society, what these people do would be illegal. But not in ours!

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