Cash Back

I've given up on trying to stop telemarketers. I thought perhaps the National Do Not Call Registry could help me, but it didn't. I thought the Federal Communications Commission could help me, but it didn't.

The fact is, I just have to accept people constantly trying to deceive me. It's not just on the telephone, but on the Internet, on television and in person. They sound so ridiculous, it's hard to imagine anyone falling for them, but they wouldn't keep doing it without a payoff.

The latest call I got, pitching satellite TV, bordered on hilarious:

"Free installation, free activation, three months of free movie channels, free receivers and remotes for up to four rooms, and a free DVR. If you don't know what a DVR is, press 1 on your phone and our reps will tell you all about it. It's awesome technology that will change the way you watch TV. Basically, if you still have a cable provider, we want your business and we're going to great lengths to get it by giving you all the equipment free. That's right, over $2,000 worth of equipment free, and we're going to save you money every month. We'll even give you an additional $100 back if you sign up today. So, with no obligation, give us a chance. Press 1 now. Or, if we've reached your number in error, please press 9 to be removed from our list."

The "additional $100 back" is my favorite part. They're giving me equipment, saving me money, and promising to return money to me without even mentioning the need to pay anything in the first place.

But even seemingly reputable companies aren't afraid to offer "cash back." General Electric does it. Home Depot does it. Dodge and Hyundai do it. Well, what the hell is cash back? Am I a moron, or could they just sell me a truck for $500 less?

For some reason, the word "rebate" has been replaced with "cash back." Whatever word you use, this age-old concept is generally tolerated by consumers, though it's utterly asinine in nature.

I'm not sure why people accept treatment from Menards that they wouldn't accept at a garage sale. Can you imagine someone telling you he'd sell you his old record collection for $50, but you can fill out a form and mail it to him to get $10 cash back?

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His e-mail address is paul @ geekprom.com.