Opinion: Column: I'm the Big Winner

Opinion: Column: I'm the Big Winner

(Not a cancer column.) For the past six months or so, I have been the email-recipient of $50 gift cards too numerous to count/tally. They have run the gamut from Ace Hardware to Zappos.com and everything in between like CVS, Kohls, Walmart; you name it. I have rarely clicked on any of these "give-aways" because the one time I did, the answers required on the site – to claim my winnings – seemed a bit intrusive, as in what they were asking was none of their business. If they truly want to incentivize me to spend money at their store/site, they need to leave my personal business out of their equation. You don't need to know my mother's maiden name or the name of the city where I was born, to give me money, and you definitely are not getting my credit card number into which you'll make "the transfer." I've been down that rabbit hole before, and it's not good.

For a time, I was naively open and curious about these presumptive money/data grabs. I figured that in a pandemic world where millions of potential buyers are quarantining at home, and brick-and-mortar businesses are left fending for themselves, finding an alternate route to my wallet/credit cards while many of us were less inclined to go out and mix with the masses, a gift card teaser seemed prudent and reasonable. Moreover, given the very extenuating circumstances we've all endured these last 18 months, it was safe even; given our collective evolution in terms of purchasing goods and services online over the last decade to buy remotely. Throw in the same day service available with some vendors and there really is very little need to leave your house.

But after being nearly hooked and gutted by a phishing expedition once before, I've become extremely cautious about taking any bait/tipping my toe in the figurative computer water, especially when the offers seem to be pulling at my heart's strings: free/easy money. Certainly I am mindful of the advisory: "If it sounds too good to be true, ..." yelled from the highest mountain tops in the past decade. However, the fraudulent pursuit of our almighty dollars are not being sent by idiots/innocent target marketers. Hardly. These callers, with whom you eventually have to make verbal or online contact, are quite proficient at answering your questions and/or allaying any fears that the about-to-be-extremely-unlucky mark is exhibiting. And once the caller/responder to your query has control of your computer – which you provided (it seemed like the logical thing to do to close/finalize the deal), the gift card party is officially over. The "free" money you had anticipated receiving is now going to cost you real money, as opposed to the offer you initially received which, as it happens, wasn't real/free at all.

Still, even with my previous near-death financial wipeout, I did click on a CVS offer. The site had all the CVS bells and whistles and colors which I've come to recognize and the offer seemed genuine: three choices to click on a box to win a $50 gift card. And of course, it was the third and final red box on which I clicked that offered up my $50. That was easy. Too easy.

As it soon became apparent, claiming the money was the problem. Once I answered a bunch of questions about my name, rank and serial number of where I live and so forth, I realized I was leading the caller down the garden path to my identity and all sorts of harrowing misadventures which I'd prefer not to experience first hand. Before it got too late/too personal on the sight, I politely backed out before any damage was done. As a result of this near calamity, I am no longer clicking on anything that seems the least bit enticing with unsolicited offers of direct payments/gift cards to me. If, however, there are solicitations to me for gift cards to be mailed to my home without any preconditions or questions answered, I'd be happy to receive them. Otherwise, I won't bother. I've been shamed once, I can't afford, literally, to be shamed twice – then it is my fault (a fool and his money ...).