I just saw Straight Outta Compton today--oh, man. It's pretty great (it just kind of ends, but other than that, it's awesome), and one of the things I thought was really excellent was the enormous focus on how artists get screwed.
Ice Cube is the one who first gets suspicious of N.W.A.'s manager: Eventually the manager wants him to sign a contract without having a lawyer look at it first, and Ice Cube just walks away from the group completely--he knows he doesn't know enough to understand a contract without a lawyer, and he has a sensitive-enough bullshit detector to know when someone is trying to screw him, so that's that.
Later as a solo artist, Ice Cube gets fed the "We'll pay you after you hit it big. Oh, you just hit it big! Well, we're still not going to pay you." line from a record company executive, so in a scene that made me cackle uncontrollably with delight, he smashes the shit out of the guy's office with a baseball bat! And tells the executive that he can take the cost out of the money he owes him! (Apparently this really happened! I love you, Ice Cube!)
And yes, settling your problems with a baseball bat is not the best way (and I should point out that sometimes the guy with the handy office is not the guy who is screwing you), but Jesus Christ, can I ever relate to the urge.
Most recently we dealt with another attempt to take advantage of an elderly relative, and it bore many similarities to N.W.A.'s problems.
That might sound odd, but a scam is a scam, whether you're a rapper straight outta Compton, a little old lady, or a writer. As I've mentioned before, people who don't want you to use processes you can trust are not people who you can trust.
So here's a little list of things to look out for that mark potential scammers:
1. They target the weak. I can't get specific for obvious reasons, but the elderly relative entered into a business agreement. Then we of the younger generation legally took over authority.
Now, I will say that I never felt good about this agreement. Why? Because the elderly relative was already somewhat addlepated when they made it, and I was open to the possibility that they were being taken advantage of.
Nonetheless, I was willing to carry the ball on this deal, since that's pretty much my job these days. In fact, I was the one who made the phone call informing the other side that authority had legally shifted.
What was truly interesting was what happened next: Nothing.
At least not to me. The other people who took over authority along with me started getting all kinds of calls and e-mails, while I did not.
Isn't that odd? In a business deal, why not communicate with the person who initiated communication with you?
Oh, because that person was most likely given that job because they were the one best-suited to handle this kind of thing? And the last thing you want to deal with is someone who might know the score.
I wonder why that is?
2. They threaten you with doom/promise you the moon. This was the thing that made us all stop and go, Wait a minute. These guys weren't just calling those who they hoped were weak--they were threatening them.
And their threats made no sense. None of us are lawyers, but all of us readily agreed that, given what little knowledge of the law we had, these threats were both remarkably vague and quite extreme.
In addition to the vague threats, there were the gauzy promises of fortune--someday. (And God, the elderly relative just ate that shit up.) Someday, we would make HEAPS of money--HEAPS!!!
Not now, of course. Now we'd get nothing. But SOMEDAY!!!!!!
3. They are not shy about making it personal. Do you give a fuck about how I get along with distant cousins I've met maybe a handful times in my lifetime? No?
These guys did--they cared so much. They were so concerned that we not alienate people whose contact information we don't even have by tanking this deal. Because tanking a bad deal would be disadvantageous to these cousins in some way. This is assuming that they hadn't already tanked the deal for themselves, and we didn't know about it, which was entirely possible, given that we don't actually know each other and don't talk.
And of course these guys stroked the elderly relative like nobody's business, because they aren't business partners--they're friends.
At least these assholes didn't pester the elderly relative after we took over in hopes of getting them to pressure us. Other assholes have.
4. Lawyer? What's a lawyer? Since the elderly relative was merely addlepated, not fully demented, a lawyer did draw up the original deal.
But the amendment to the deal that these guys wanted us to sign? Oh, nobody needs a lawyer for a silly little thing like that.
We're silly little things, so yes, we did get a lawyer specializing in that particular area of law to look at it and tell us that signing the amendment would be (and this is an exact quote) "crazy." Also, we can undo the deal whether they want us to or not.
So what is the other side doing now? They're pretending like our lawyer does not exist. They've been instructed more than once to communicate solely with the lawyer, but they are acting like nobody told them nothing. (And HA! you should have seen the lawyer's professional reserve just vaporize in a red-hot fury over that one!)
Why are they doing this? Please familiarize yourself with point #1 above.