Protection rackets

Is it just me, or are the people who sell supplemental insurance or extended warranties a lot more aggressive about it lately? I just got off the phone with a semi-coherent phone jockey from MBNA Canada — I have a MasterCard with them — who was trying to sell me insurance for my credit and debit cards. Now I thought that credit card companies’ protections against loss and fraud were adequate, and said so; but he persisted — conjuring up all kinds of disaster scenarios that would be very unfortunate if I had to endure them — to the point I had to hang up on him. At the end of the call I couldn’t help but wonder whether mysterious charges would start appearing on my statement as a result of my failure to pay protection — that’s how bothered I was. A truly unpleasant experience, as most of my experiences with customer “service” have been lately.

It’s not the first time. Lately, it seems that I can’t buy a piece of consumer electronics without getting asked about an extended warranty. Normally I decline them. But on at least two occasions — when I bought a DVD player from the Sony Store 2½ years ago, and when I bought Jen’s digital camera last Christmas at Best Buy — I actually had the sales rep talk down the quality of the product I had just agreed to buy. They’re not built the same way they used to, they say. The laser on that DVD player could get misaligned. Digital camera production is shoddier than it used to be. Etc. In other words, they’re not nearly as interested in selling the gadget as they are the extended warranty: it’s no surprise where the profits lie.

They’re making money by selling fear: their profits lie in the difference between the actual failure, loss or theft rate and what we believe — what they make us believe — that rate is. If their products were truly that unreliable, they’d never make any money at all. If their products are reliable and we believe them to be so, professional thieves may be their only hope.