Merchandising: Caveat Emptor

It seems an irresistible bargain. The folder that arrives in the mail offers to sell a $41.50 transistor radio for only $12.50, or perhaps a blender worth $49.50 for only $19.50. The notice is on official-looking paper of the kind that is usually sent out by claims adjusting firms assigned to liquidate the stock of a bankrupt company at distress prices. Every week more than a million similar notices, offering everything from Bibles to binoculars, go into mailboxes across the U.S.—and every week thousands of people bite at the bait.

The trouble is that the bargains usually turn out to...

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