Ripping off old folks, but for a good cause
By Michael M. Bates
A relative has been in the hospital, and then rehab at a nursing home, for a couple of months. The other day I took the 90-year-old over to his house. We weren't there for a minute when the phone rang. It was a telemarketer. In less than ten minutes, two other sales calls came in.
The elderly, often housebound and lonely, are particularly susceptible to phone pitches. Some companies specifically target them for scams.
In April the New York Times ran a story on an information broker business, infoUSA, which sells lists for telemarketing. According to the Times, a list of "Suffering Seniors" comprised 4.7 people with cancer or Alzheimer's. "Elderly Opportunity Seekers" included more than 3 million people "looking for ways to make money."
Another contained information on half a million senior gamblers. One sales list boasted: "These people are gullible. They want to believe that their luck can change."
Predictably, some of the businesses purchasing these lists used them for fraud. One Iowa man mentioned in the article lost more than $100,000 to scam artists.
There are laws preventing information brokers from selling their lists to evident swindlers. OK, so honest mistakes are a part of life. The newspaper tried to contact infoUSA officials dozens of times for its story, but, unlike the elderly who've been bilked, they evidently don't answer their phone. Later, infoUSA termed the incidents an aberration, pledging similar episodes wouldn't occur.
When the story appeared, I surfed over to the Web site Democratic Underground.com, a place where you can always find the often extraordinarily loony "thoughts" of practicing liberals. I wasn't disappointed with the reaction there.
It's all part of George Bush's America, you see. Yet another example of the rich preying on the weak and ignorant. We need more protection from the government. There's no difference between organized crime and corporate America. It's just like how we're getting ripped off by oil companies.
No, I wasn't let down by the usual suspects at the Democratic Underground. They had to be disappointed to read the Associated Press story less than a week later reporting infoUSA has been most munificent to the Left's very own Ozzie and Harriet, Bill and Hillary Clinton.
A shareholders' lawsuit charges the company's founder and CEO, Vinod Gupta, with wasting corporate millions trying to ingratiate himself with the Clintons. Cited as examples are the more than $3 million in contracts for Bill Clinton to provide business advice as well as $900,000 spent to jet the couple around the world. Mr. Gupta's infoUSA paid the impeached former president $200,000 for a speech in Omaha. According to the Washington Post, Gupta "and his company donated at least $1 million to help underwrite a lavish millennium New Year's Eve celebration at the (Clinton) White House and on the Mall."
The CEO has also given $1 million to Clinton's presidential library. He donated more than $220,000 to Democrats when Hillary Clinton first ran for the Senate. Other beneficiaries of his largess, Federal Election Commission records show, are Barack Obama, Al Gore, John Kerry and New York Senator Charles "Let's Investigate Unethical Republicans" Schumer.
Vinod's bigheartedness didn't go unnoticed. He stayed in the Lincoln bedroom back in the good old days when the Clintons operated the White House like a Motel 6.
Bill offered him an ambassadorship and a second high level diplomatic post, but Mr. Gupta declined. He did, though, accept a presidential appointment to the celebrated John F. Kennedy Center Board of Trustees.
After the Times' investigative story, the two leading Democratic presidential candidates did what was expected. Mrs. Clinton's flunkies tried to put distance between her and the infoUSA chief. In accepting private plane trips, the senator "complied with all the relevant ethics rules." Perhaps they should have gone with "there is no controlling legal authority." That worked so well for Al Gore.
Barack Obama describes himself on his Senate Web page – your tax dollars at work - as "a leader in fighting for open and honest government." Prompted by the Times' article, he wrote to the Federal Trade Commission, expressing his concern that the agency isn't doing more to protect the elderly from fraudulent telemarketing schemes.
If Mr. Obama returned the 2004 contribution he received from infoUSA's Vinod Gupta, he didn't mention it. Leaders in open and honest government can only go so far.
With any luck, there's a special place for people who profit from gouging the elderly. I mean a spot other than as an illustrious contributor to the Democratic Party, White House overnight guest, and friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Someplace much, much hotter.
This Michael Bates column appeared in the May 31, 2007 Reporter Newspapers.