Geoff Henley is a Dallas-based lawyer, real-estate investor and former title-company owner. When I describe to him the business model of Home Title Lock—charging terrified oldsters $19.95 a month to provide them with “complete protection” against the subatomically miniscule possibility of losing their homes to simple title fraud—he laughs for almost a minute straight.
“Damn,” he says after regaining his composure. “I wonder if it’s too late for us to start one of those?”
If you listen to talk radio or watch cable news, you know about Home Title Lock. It’s not the only company of its kind, but it’s the best-known. Political TV and radio are absolute cavalcades of baloney, avalanches of quacktastical ads for miracle doggie vitamins and dehydrated vegetables in capsule form, fish oil supplements infused with botanicals, and sundry pills and powders and potions and gold coins and real-estate seminars to make you independently wealthy. The message is always a variation on the themes of pain and fear. Get your life back. Take control. Protect yourself. David Foster Wallace described the goal of advertising as to “create an anxiety relievable by purchase.” It’s a strategy cable news and talk radio take seriously, even when they have to invent or exaggerate a source of anxiety.
The story the home-title monitoring companies tell in their overwrought advertisements is indeed anxiety-inducing. A shady guy forges your name on a document. Then he files a phony deed saying he owns your house. Soon he sells the house or takes out a big loan against it. This leaves you—the elderly viewer or listener trembling in your Buick at the stentorian tones of Sebastian Gorka—homeless and financially ruined.