See a TV ad or billboard offering a "free service" or "free help with your problem" ?  Beware!

There ain't no such thing as a free lunch" (alternatively, "There's no such thing as a free lunch" or other variants) is a popular adage communicating the idea that it is impossible to get something for nothing. The initialisms TNSTAAFL, TANSTAAFL, and TINSTAAFL are also used. The "free lunch" refers to the once-common tradition of saloons in the United States providing a "free" lunch to patrons who had purchased at least one drink. Many foods on offer were high in salt (e.g., ham, cheese, and salted crackers), so those who ate them ended up buying a lot of beer.  This practice is still in play today in many restaurants and bars where they offer free salty peanuts or chips. Rudyard Kipling, writing in 1891, noted how he…came upon a bar-room full of bad Salon pictures, in which men with hats on the backs of their heads were wolfing food from a counter. It was the institution of the "free lunch" . You paid for a drink and got as much as you wanted to eat. TANSTAAFL, on the other hand, indicates an acknowledgement that in reality a person or a society cannot get "something for nothing". Even if something appears to be free, there is always a cost to the person or to society as a whole, although that may be a hidden cost or an externality.

Is there such thing as a free lunch?.  As everyone knows, there's no such thing as something for nothing. You always pay a price. So what are we to do when we see an advertisement for a free lunch just for attending a seminar on investing, or a billboard or TV commercial offering a free service. The first thing to do is ask yourself, why would anyone pay thousands of dollars a month for a billboard or hundreds of thousands of dollars for television commercials to promote  a "free service".  Most people really don't ask themselves this question, and even if they did, they don't really consider the answer.  If we give it some thought, the answer must be a resounding no, there is no way that anyone would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide a free service. The person or company offering the free service is making money from unsuspecting customers falling for their "free service"  The problem with this type of offer is that it is inherently deceptive and misleading, and may deprive unsuspecting consumers of their right to make informed buying decisions.


As an example, hypothetical retiree Susan gets a flyer in her mail box for a free lunch seminar on investing for retirement. She goes to the seminar and gets a nice "free lunch" and a presentation by an "investment advisor" who offers to help Sue  have the retirement she always dreamed of.  Sue places her confidence in the investment advisor and gives him her life savings.  The stock broker invests her money in several investments that later turn out to be either worthless or have little or no return, however the stock broker makes huge commissions on the deal.  Did sue really get a free lunch? You decide.


Another hypothetical example, Jim sees a television commercial for a free inspection of his air conditioning ducts, calls the number and soon an air conditioning company shows up and tells Jim he needs a complete new air conditioning system. Jim relies on their advice and pays $10,000.00 for a new air conditioner that he didn't even need.


Hypothecal accident victim Larry sees a commercial on TV for a lawyer that says they will give him a free evaluation of his accident case, and provide free explanation of his legal rights.  Believing that he will actually get a free case evaluation or a free explanation of his rights,  Larry calls the 800 number for the lawyer, is routed to a call center, and within hours an "investigator" shows up at Larry's house. The "investigator is not a lawyer, just a guy that has a drivers license.  The investigator brings a contract for legal representation that Larry feels uncomfortable signing but reluctantly signs anyway.  The investigator not being a lawyer, could not legally answer any questions Larry asked, and  goes back to the law firm, and that is the last time that Larry sees anyone from the law firm, other than speaking on the phone with a paralegal at  the law firm a couple times. Another surprise, Larry is told by his lawyer that he must get treatment at a particular medical clinic, and that he cannot continue to see his regular doctor.  The law firm settled Larry's case quickly for significantly less than the claim was worth, and makes a legal fee of 33.33% but Larry ends up with nothing after the medical bills at the clinic are paid.  Larry thought that the law firm on TV was going to provide free information on his rights, and help him put his life back together as they promised in their advertisement,  but in the end the lawyers made all the money and there was really no free service, no free case evaluation, and no explanation of his rights by a real lawyer. Larry later learns that the lawyers have some type of special arrangement with the medical clinic that he was never told about.


Often there are hidden costs with so called free services.  A good example is free apps for your phone or tablet.  One costs is called  "in app purchases".  Children's games are ripe for this hidden cost, they download a "free app" consisting of a cute video game.  The kids play the game and it sure looks like they got something for nothing, however there are hidden costs that can rack up charges on your credit card, these include upgrades to the "full version" of the game, and "in app" purchases.  There can be charges up to $5.00 each time a certain item is touched in the free online game.


When you see a television commercial or billboard offering you a free service, or "free help" keep in mind that there is no free lunch, and you don't get something for nothing. Anyone spending hundreds of thousands of dollars offering a free service is not in the business of giving away money, they are in business to make money, unless they are a non-profit organization.  When you need products or services, make an informed decision, don't base your decision to buy products or services on an advertisement, especially a deceptive advertisement offering you a free service.

For more information or a free consultation on your legal issue contact The Law Offices of Charles D. Scott PLLC, your injury law and family law attorneys, at 727-300-4878.

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