Tuesday, August 7

Italy's Post Office: a new service or a scam?

Having just recently reported about the new scams hitting up drivers in Italy, I thought I'd do my best Agatha Christie impersonation and uncover another trick which I am quite sure, in these difficult economic times, is actually a scam.  This one must be a fraud since it advertises new and improved services by Italy's Poste Italiane.  But, I'm getting ahead of myself.  It might not be a scam after all, I'll let you readers decide:

Plastered all around my neighborhood, and sometimes further afield, were these bright yellow, attention-getting makeshift posters.  Crowned with a downloaded logo of Poste Italiane, they caught my attention for a few reasons.  First off, I couldn't understand why the post office would be advertising their services on phone booths and trees and garbage canisters when they love to produce brochures of every shape, size and color and inundate your mailbox - seeing that they have your address and that of every other person in the entire country [could it be because the mail carriers can't be trusted to actually deliver the flyers?]  Secondly, I couldn't for the life of me, imagine why they wanted to introduce a service that requires total strangers to enter your home -- especially for the elderly, victims time and again of nefarious petty criminals, who go in and convince old folks to hand over oodles of money, sometimes drugging them in the process.  And third, why on earth would you launch a service for homes right when everyone was leaving them for the entire month of August, never to remember that this service even exists after three weeks frying their bodies and their brains at the beach.

The Posters Read:  From now on, you can pay your bills
in the comfort of your home
All you need is a credit card and then contact any of our
reps for your zone at the numbers below
Giving Poste Italiane the benefit of the doubt, I decided to simply see if this were true.  If so, it still behooved me to think that they would want to promote a service like this, when every other utility and phone company in town was busy plastering announcements with every bill shouting out that No one will ever come to your home to collect payment of any kind -- in a last ditch attempt to convince the elderly not to be so trusting.  
So off I went to my local post office, the central one in Rome's City Center, and its huge distribution hub near the Pyramid just to see if I could find some information on this new fab service.  Nothing.  No flyers, no one knew a thing.  Again, in marketing-challenged Italy, this doesn't necessarily mean that another office somewhere didn't launch the service without telling the rest of the people.  Internal communications is a rare commodity around these parts.
Online, I went to the source:  The Post Office website, looking for info on the new home-based service.  Nothing was posted, no announcement, no news, and, after a gazillion clicks, I couldn't find a whole lot.  I reiterate, that does not signify that the service is not legit.  It's August.  The web guy is probably on vacation.  I did come across a Poste Italiane web TV channel on youtube (and now we wonder why they run such huge losses -- like I want to watch programs about the post office...of course, I can always look at postal programs instead of looking at my mail which never shows up.)  There, they promote the service but say you can only pay a certain type of bill with only a postal debit card.  Not any card, anytime.
Finally, I decided to check and see whose number that last one, supposedly ringing over at an office, belonged to.  I didn't call it, because I figured they were just waiting for people to invite strangers into the home.  According to the Italian white pages, it was an unlisted number.  Calling it, it just rings before cutting you off, but this, too, is a common occurrence for most public service establishments.
At this point, if I am to believe that the postal service is a legitimate one (in fact, they provide a toll free number to call, not posted on the posters like the ones above), I take Poste Italiane to task and ask, in this day and age of cloning credit cards, why they would attempt such a service which opens up the entire country to thieves.   In addition, with so many elderly without credit cards, I could just hear even an honest employee say, "Well, okay, you can pay me in cash."  You would never be the wiser until your next bill comes due months later, and then, as usual, it'd be your word against theirs.

If instead, it's a scam, I'd be interested in knowing about the posting of all these cellphone numbers.  Do they belong to the same person?  Did they just want to try their luck at scamming a few dozen people, cloning the cards and then, the numbers would be discontinued as soon as they got enough cards in their hands?  Hard to tell.  

But either way, scam or not, somebody needs a crash course in marketing right away.

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