The latest Donald Trump campaign finance story broke a couple of days ago in The New York Times, but I am loathe to say I am not unfamiliar with this scam.
"How Trump Steered Supporters Into Unwitting Donations" (linked above) as written by Shane Goldmacher and posted April 3, 2020, puports to expose the crimes behind an increasingly desperate president's last campaign donation efforts prior to the election, and it is uniformly convinving.
At least it is to me. Why?
Because I had once inadvertently taken part in a similar scam.
When I initially arrived in Los Angeles in 1989, I was determined to do whatever it took to earn a living in my chosen career: writing. I worked every telemarketing job I could fit into a 24-hour day, so long as they did not interfere with my scant hours of sleep per night nor my three hours of dedicated writing time. I was a special education teacher with a B.A. and a whole other purpose (it was a fall-back career), but in my relocation from Brooklyn, New York I decided I only wanted sales jobs to pay the bills while I practiced my craft and pursued my dream ... as verbal pursuasion was an ability of which I seemed to possess some innate talent.
Over the phone, that is, punctuating the curse of having the gift of gab while being socially inept (at the time). I could never sell in person whether I believed in the product or not; I'd become self-conscious and beads of sweat would form on my forehead whenever I pushed my prospect too much.
I was safer on the phone. No one could see me.
That said, my integrity would not be bought. If I smelled the whiff of something illegal in the boiler rooms, or something suspicious, chances are I would quit early on in my tenure.
And that's exactly what happened during one of my first jobs in Southern California: a part-time gig collecting on the phone for a computer supply company, that was sandwiched between two part-time telemarketing sales jobs.
Journalist Philip Bump reported the aforementoned Trump story in The Washington Post, published on April the 5th, with an emphasis on the sheer scope of his alleged endeavor.
According to Bump and other journalists, Donald Trump and/or his campaign were responsible for bilking his supporters out of over $100 million, taking weekly withdrawals from supporter accounts when the vast majority of them were intending to make a simple one-time donation.
Their first donations became the first of a 'subscription,' for lack of a better analogy.
I discovered this all-too-common scam early during my first of two California stays. I used to work for a company as a private collector of past-due bills. 30-plus years ago. I lasted all of a month, and left when I discovered their game.
Customers were buying computer supplies via a pushy telemarketing sales staff. They thought they were purchasing a single item — usually a computer ribbon or toner.
They had no idea they were actually purchasing monthly ‘subscriptions’ based upon the product or products they were ordering.
Some statistics I figured during my employ, written on a piece of paper I have kept to this day: 72% of the year-to-date customers when I took this measure were office workers (the telemarketers were told to ask to build rapport), 20% were in an artistic profession, and 8% represented themselves as retired.
And yet they bought anyway.
What they all had in common was keeping a side room of the larger office busy. Very, very busy.
That was my side room, where I sat with three other collectors.
I was wondering why the vast majority of their customers had so many past-due bills. I could not get any straight answer from those in my office. I later learned from one of the principals, who quit when the Office of Consumer Affairs got involved, that these orders were known to the higher levels in-house as “shove orders.”
Compare this to the beginning of The New York Times piece. One individual, in hospice care due to terminal cancer and a Trump supporter, donated $500 to Trump's campaign believing he was doing good. The following day, another $500 was withdrawn -- this time without his permission. The next week, another $500, and so it went until he was $3000 in arrears as a result of bouncing all his bills.
He was one of thousands. Things like this do not happen by accident.
In my job's indiscretions, though obviously not nearly the scope of Trump's endeavor, the tiniest print on a customer's first receipt offered the equivalent of “opting out.” They had seven days to cancel follow-up orders and very few noticed.
So ... the customers' first orders were doubled the next month, then doubled from there, with money pulled directly from their bank accounts.
It was the same con, technically not illegal as everything was written and sent to the buyers in small print. The tiniest print in this instance, where one of average eyesight would -- and I'm being literal -- require a magnifying glass to read.
When I questioned the company’s business and my concerns regarding the sheer number of dissatisfied customers all for the same reason — customers I was hired to call and from whom I was supposed to collect — I was told to mind my business and just get their money.
I quit, immediately contacted the Office of Consumer Affairs myself, and cooperated with them.
Unfortunately, this sales-solicitation scam is as old as dirt, and will continue to be if those guilty keep getting away with it.
To those who continue to support Donald Trump by blaming “Antifa spies” or some nonsense, I will kindly ask you to open your eyes but I will not change your mind.
Being originally from Brooklyn, though, and certainly outspoken, I will end with this: Indiscretions such as the above practices begin at the top, and work their way down.
Thank you for reading.