Management Tactic #23: Too Good to Be True

The year was 2002. I had returned from my junior year abroad in Japan having resisted buying any tiny, fancy Japanese laptops that wouldn’t have worked at all in America. I needed a laptop, though, because I wanted to take typewritten notes in class. (Which, by the way, I never did. How many people actually use laptops for their portability beyond law-school students and frequent travelers. I think people just get laptops because they like the idea that their life is more portable than before.)

So I did what any unwitting college student would do: I went on eBay. There I found a member who was selling hundreds of ultrathin Toshiba laptops for well below the manufacturer price. I placed a few bids, lost them, and then on my fourth attempt, I won! (Ah, the illusion of “winning” on eBay. My friends, what you are doing is called paying.) At just over $1,000, it seemed like a steal. It seemed too good to be true.

Then…the laptop didn’t arrive. I waited one week, then two. Still nothing. I checked my bank account, and sure enough, the payment had gone through. I gave the seller the benefit of the doubt–with so many laptops sold, surely they were swamped.

It wasn’t until the third week that the news broke that we had been scammed. There were no laptops. Just some kid in New Jersey who thought that hundreds of people wouldn’t notice that they weren’t getting anything for the $1,000 they paid.

I felt like an idiot, but there was nothing I could do about it at that point (beyond joining in the class-action suit).

If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Read that again and take it to heart. Because as humans, we’ll deny it a thousand times. We want things to be too good to be true. Computer deals, craigslist ads, those e-mails for penis enlargement…we want to believe that we’ve found the exception to the rule. We say to ourselves, “This is almost too good to be true,” giving ourselves leeway for clicking that “submit” button to Western Union.

To this day, I still find myself seeing ads and promotions–many of them on craigslist–and thinking excitedly, “I can’t believe I found this! I’m so lucky! This is an amazing deal! It’s too good to be true!” It happened the other day when I saw a renter on craigslist looking for a landlord to rent him a place for $2,000 a month. The ad was surrounded by posts from people looking for the same space for about $700/mo. I thought I had struck gold.

And then I stopped. And thought. And realized that if it’s too good to be true, it probably is, and I needed to let it go. And I did.

Have you been scammed? Have you let yourself believe that something was too good to be true?