Cultural Blindspots: 12 Scams We Refuse To Recognize as Such

Remember that, for decades, countless investors considered Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme the safest investment possible. This example perfectly exemplifies why, even today, large segments of the population refuse to recognize scams for what they are. Scam status lies in the eye of the beholder. Here are 12 we can't seem to shake.

1. Donating Money

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How do we know where donated money is actually going? One person in an online forum questions, “…to preachers with private jets,” and another says, “how much is going to pay people making ridiculous salaries.” Honestly, great questions.

2. The 40 Hour Work Week

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Whose idea was it for everyone to work 40 hours a week and have a family plus a life? One person online says, “We should be on 32 hours and 3-day weekends. No loss in productivity.”

I agree.

3. College

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Only if we collectively admit that most college degrees are scams will we enact widespread decreases in tuition. $200,000 for a Journalism or Gender Studies degree? What are we doing here?

Scam me once, shame on you. Scam multiple generations of college graduates, listen to them complain incessantly about the albatross of debt they will never live down, then willingly go to graduate school? Shame on me.

4. Diamond Wedding Rings

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A mob of spouses who burned multiple months of earnings on their beloved's diamond ring came to a consensus: This is an unmitigated ripoff. Diamond magnates like De Beers have arguably created the most lucrative, ingenious cultural marketing scheme ever. By convincing brides that the ring has to be a diamond.

5. Tipping

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This one is interesting, but let's examine it from the European perspective. One non-American can't understand why you'd tip anybody unless they went above and beyond their call of duty.

Why should anyone be expected to tip if an employee does a ho-hum job or performs below expectations? Isn't the business owner paying that person to do their job? One European calls the American culture of expected tipping “utterly ridiculous.” If you've ever tipped a surly waiter or mover who broke your coffee table, you can't help but feel scammed.

6. Charitable Donations

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How many people would donate to charity if they knew that more than 50% of donations went to “overhead?” In philanthropic terms, “overhead” often means first-class flights and rooms at the Four Seasons for CEOs and ranking staffers. Audit your charity of choice, and you may find that most charity isn't going to people in need.

7. Insurance

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Not all insurance is a scam. But what about that health insurance that only works for the real-world equivalent of The Simpsons' Dr. Nick? Or the phone warranty with a deductible that's darn near the price of a new device? Outright scams, the lot of them.

8. The Lottery

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Everybody knows the lottery is a scam—everyone except for those who play it. What if I told you the odds of winning the Powerball was one in nearly 300 million? Do you like those odds?

Of course you don't. So why would anyone place even a single hard-earned cent buying a lottery ticket? The lotto is as scamtastic as scams get.

9. Multi-Level Marketing

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Herbalife. Arbonne. Amway. Natura Cosmetics.

These products could be truly life-changing. They could turn Shrek into Leonardo DiCaprio, for that matter. The fact that multi-level marketing requires one person to recruit multiple other people in order to make a profit makes MLM a pyramid scheme. Or as some might call it, a pyramid scam.

10. Microtransactions

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As any parent whose Minecraft-obsessed kid has gotten ahold of their credit card knows, there's nothing micro about microtransactions. The term microtransaction alone reeks of scaminess. I want the total price, and to quote Violet Beauregarde, I want it now. 

11. Property Tax

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So I own this house and land? Please explain why I'm paying an obsequious bureaucratic entity that continues to siphon money from the property I supposedly own.

The tax code feels less than honest, whether it's property tax or the general manner of taxing a single dollar at least 57 times as it changes hands.

12. Astrology

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You're not earning $11.50 an hour working at Sonic because it's “written in the stars.” No amount of moon dances will pay your rent or stop your girlfriend from cheating on you. Astrology, manifestation, crystals—throw all the mumbo jumbo in a sack and label it “scams.”

And if I'm wrong, let the Geminis and tarot card readers have mercy on me. Seriously, please don't curse me. I can't deal with a curse right now.

This thread inspired this post.

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Sam Mire is a freelance writer who has manned a variety of beats over nearly a decade in the literary biz. He has spent weeks in the Alaskan wildlands, immersed himself in the world of Florida's homeless population, covered live sporting events, and served as a linchpin for media outlets in the legal, tech, and entertainment spaces. Sam has been published in Fast Company, Forbes, Entrepreneur, AP News, Fox News, and, most notably, Wealth of Geeks. In his free time, he enjoys boxing, woodwork, petting his dog, and reveling in good company.