Why I say NO by default

I have a very sensitive uh, BS detector, bordering on paranoia. It didn’t used to be that way.

There were a couple of times where a stranger walked up to me and asked me for $10. He lost his wallet and his bicycle, and he needed to get home. By taxi (or cab for you Americans). Really? There’s no one you know that you can call for help? The transport system in Singapore is fairly connected. You don’t need $10. $5 is already plenty, and you can always walk a little. Hey you’re down on your luck. You can walk.

There were also a couple of times where a child walked up to me and asked me for money. One boy of about 10 years old in school uniform asked for money so he could buy a hamburger (I was at McDonald’s then). Another boy, also in school uniform, asked for money because he didn’t have money in his EZ-Link card (a transportation card like the Octopus Card in Hong Kong, or Oyster card in England). He asked for $10 (that’s the minimum top-up amount). Wait, you couldn’t call your mom? Hmm… Haven’t I heard that one before…

But the point came that I started to distrust by default when I almost got hoodwinked into handing over my money every month for no good reason. It was many years ago (but still haunts me…) while I had a job. I had dreams of travelling the world and visiting places.

Then one day, I got a call saying I could get some free goodies if I attended some event. I don’t know how they got my phone number (we’ll talk about this later on). Ok, I’ll go.

The event was to get people buying time share properties. Basically, you pay some money every month to “own” a property that you can stay at when you travel. Or something. You’re sharing time on that property, because other people do the same thing. So all of you are paying for the privilege of possibly staying at that place in the future.

I just finished paying off my student loans. I dreamt of visiting and staying at new places. “I could stay at a castle!” And I mean, the sales person could write upside-down! She seemed very friendly and knowledgeable and have I mentioned I could stay at a castle?

It was after I signed on the dotted line that something didn’t feel right. The next day, I told my colleagues about it. One of them said he always go for such events, but never sign up. He went to get the free goodies only.

I want to cancel the whole thing. Apparently, it’s not that easy. I can live with losing the deposit I placed, but it seemed that I was still “under contract” to continue giving the company money for something I no longer want. I would have lost over $10000 that way before I could terminate the contract.

So I turned to the commerce mediating organisation in Singapore. They’re like the FTC in America, but with (much much) less power. But it’s better than nothing.

Long story short, eventually I could terminate the contract. I even got my deposit back.

Since then, I never buy anything or jump into any monetary contract without fully understanding what it means. And I’m a fairly minimalist person, which means practically everything.

I even got paranoid about my phone number. How had the time share company gotten hold of my phone number? Only through people who knew me, because I gave up helping people with surveys that also required my contact information (eventually, I stopped asking if the survey needed my contact info. I just said no).

Right now, if some company calls me up, I am very negative about it. Because the only people who has my number are close friends and family. And maybe remnants of people who can be loosely called acquaintances. And my bank. Hmm.

So I almost had a heart attack when I saw a letter from said time share company yesterday. I had to open it immediately, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to sleep. Are they going to ask me for money? Did I leave out something in the contract in fine print? You can tell I thoroughly distrust this company already.

It was a letter telling their customers (I no longer consider myself their customer) that there’s been some company changes. Corporate buyouts, change of address, that sort of thing. The funny thing was it’s dated 1 April, so I don’t even know if I should take it seriously.

Interestingly, there was some stress on NOT contacting certain staff for certain matters. No reason was given. This just reinforced my (already low) opinion of the company and its staff. Are the staff working in a cut-throat environment? I have received a letter saying I was to pay the amount “owed” to the company retroactively once. I believe that letter was sent by someone who got hold of my information (from within the company), and blackmailed me. That person probably left the company, and thought they could squeeze some money out of the company (and by extension, me). I ignored the letter. And I can totally imagine this kind of person working in the company.

So this is why I say no by default to people asking me for time, money and help. It’s not that I’m a selfish jerk. It’s because I’ve had too many bad experiences before.

That said, I’m open minded enough to at least consider the request. Generally, I don’t even consider the nature of the request first. I look at the person. Do I trust that person? Is that person trustworthy, or needy enough, that I want to help?

And then, and only then, do I consider what it is I’m to help with.

Man in long-sleeved shirt or woman in business attire asking me to help fill in a survey? Nope. Teenager holding out a tin can with stickers asking for donations? Probably. Child asking for money to buy food or go home? Depends. Singapore is a fairly prosperous country. Our poor aren’t even really that poor. You can buy a good meal with just $2 (about USD 1.63 with the current low exchange rate. America, what’s up with that?). What are you buying to eat, latte and cheesecake?

I understand there are legitimate trustworthy business people out there. So I make sure to read the fine print. I read their work and determine if I trust them. Because I’ve been burnt too many times.

Have I told you about the time when I bought a product that promised that I’ll make USD 1000 in 30 days? I felt totally scummy.