I’ve come to believe that we humans are wired for greed. Through the course of my work, I find plenty of evidence to support this conclusion. It’s seems like this is how we often find our way into trouble.

Take scams, for example. There are several that play on our fear, of course, like the CRA scam calls. But the common thread that makes many scams successful is greed. More specifically, a belief that we’re getting something that seems too good to be true. We’re all too smart by now to fall for the Nigerian prince who wants to send us millions of inheritance dollars. But there are plenty more where that came from, that consistently rise to the top of the list.

I mean, who could resist the allure of millions of dollars won in an international sweepstakes? (Even though, strangely, you don’t remember entering any draw.)

Who could turn down a ground-floor opportunity in the newest form of cryptocurrency, guaranteed to return at least 50 times your initial investment? (Who cares that you don’t fully understand what a Bitcoin actually is or how one might go about spending it, right?)

And let’s not forget about that job offer you’ve just received (even though, amazingly enough, you didn’t even have to interview for it!). A starting salary way higher than your last job, with easy work and no specific requirements. All you need to do is deposit a cheque, buy a few things, and wire the balance to someone else. Easy peasy.

And what really makes my blood boil is how so many of these schemes prey upon those who can least afford it. It’s the people who really need that new job, need those lottery winnings, need that investment windfall. Those are the people who all too often are the victims.

It’s not just scams. It’s how we see otherwise smart people get into trouble as customers, too.

Backyard mechanics may seem like an amazing deal. Half the price of taking your car to the shop. But do they have the knowledge, do they have access to the right tools and parts, and maybe most importantly, are they going to stand behind their work if something goes wrong?

The quote you got from the nice contractor seemed incredibly low, didn’t it? Almost too good to be true. Before he starts swinging hammers, did you think about where he might be cutting corners? Is it the quality of materials, or maybe the fact that he doesn’t really understand the work he’s going to be doing?

Don’t even get me started on the never-ending supply of miracle weight-loss pills, natural remedies guaranteed to cure your every ailment, and skin creams that promise to keep you looking young forever. Vanity and greed are a dangerous combination.

There are three questions that, if you ask them at the right time, can help you stay out of trouble.

  1. Am I entitled to this? Winning a contest that you didn’t enter, getting a job you didn’t apply for, or getting an unreasonably low price on something without a good reason are all warning signs.
  2. What am I signing up for? What are the terms and conditions of the offer? What am I committing to? What exactly am I going to get out of this?
  3. What about after? If I’m not satisfied, or if I don’t get the results I was promised, or if I need to get in touch, what happens?

Sure, there are good deals out there to be had, and there are times when a bit of good fortune lands in our lap. The tricky part is knowing the difference between a good deal, and something that truly is too good to be true.

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