Never mind Enron, WorldCom and all the other major league business scandals from several years ago. Big shots are going to jail, accounting reforms have been enacted, and there's reason to believe big corporations are behaving better, if only because of more intense scrutiny.
What largely escapes the media's attention, however, is a disturbing array of smaller scale hustles masquerading as legitimate businesses. They come in below the radar because they are for the most part legal enterprises involving esoteric services, or the illusion thereof. Some entail relatively trivial sums of money but victimize many people. Collectively, they attest to the fact that too many people are earning livings as modern day snake oil peddlers.
And I bet most of them complain that plumbers charge too much.
I'm not talking about outright criminality. Robbers and con artists at least are defined as criminals, and law enforcement provides some degree of protection against them. The activities referred to here all fall within the letter of the law, but are sordid nonetheless. Examples abound.
Instead, the perpetrators target small businesses of a certain size that their research shows have enough money to afford a settlement ranging to tens of thousands of dollars, but not enough to outlast them in drawn-out court proceedings. It's a thoroughly legal form of extortion. While not widespread, this gambit has succeeded in picking the pockets of some small e-commerce entrepreneurs.
Rarely if ever does a client make a cent off the inventions submitted to these companies, and just in case one does stumble into a licensing agreement, the invention companies make sure there are documents signed that entitle them to a large chunk of the royalties. I've written about these businesses in the past and asked them to direct me to inventions they have sponsored that ended up being successfully marketed. I've yet to hear of one.
They are purposely designed to look like invoices, with disclaimers shaded in such as way as to escape notice. The amounts usually are under $100, which is not enough to ring alarm bells in a harried accounts payable clerk cutting checks for dozens of routine bills. The directories are low-budget publications with suspect distribution.
Thus, many people end up paying $9.95 a month for a psychic hot line service or some such. It happened to me a few years ago, until I sent a letter to the company demanding a full refund of every cent I spent with them. I copied the consumer fraud office of my state's attorney, which did the trick in obtaining all of my money back.
I've run out of space before I've run out of legalized scams to report. All there's room left to say is how good it is to be associated with an industry of hard-working, industrious people who earn their keep and make valuable contributions to our society.