Archive for Thursday, March 10, 2011

Smith: Don’t be fooled by a con

March 10, 2011

Sometimes it seems to me that there are those who think the general public is either so stupid or so greedy that it will fall for any get-rich-quick scheme. These hucksters believe the old P .T. Barnum line that a sucker is born every minute.

Certainly this is not a new idea. If you go back in time you will always find there were con artists trying to separate honest folks from their money. Or if you read newspapers from a century or more ago, there were snake oil salesmen who peddled liquid that promised to cure everything from baldness to constipation.

The Internet has provided a fertile area for con artists to try to steal a buck. But I really wonder how anyone could be stupid enough to play along with such poorly written e-mail offers. In the last week or so, I decided to read some of these offers in my spam account. Really, I found the offers to be very amusing. Apparently there are those who think most Americans know nothing about their family history.

For example, I received an e-mail informing me that one of my ancestors had been in Africa and had been a partner in a secret diamond mine. Apparently if I paid legal fees, these riches would be mine.

Give me a break. I have never traveled to Africa and the only relative to ever mention Africa was my grandfather, who served in the medical corps in the British navy during the first Boer War. He told of the wounded being brought to the ship and he never mentioned going on shore. Besides, he came to the United States and became a minister and literally lived from hand to mouth due to the typical low pay for ministers in the first half of the 20th century.

Another e-mail offer that I received really annoyed me. This one informed me that a relative had served in Europe during World War II and had been part of a group that had discovered and hidden several million dollars in Nazi treasure. Again, they promised that if I kicked in some funds, I would receive a check for my share. To me this e-mail scam dishonored all the brave men and women who served and died in the war.

Another of the favorite ploys of the Internet con artist is to play on your emotions. One writer said he had millions of dollars in money he had received from a Middle East oil group and because he was a dissident, he needed help getting the money to the United States. And, yes, he had heard I was a Christian and an honest man and, therefore, he knew I could be trusted. All I had to do was send him a few hundred dollars and my bank account number and he would wire the money to my bank. Obviously this e-mail was sent to thousands and you have to wonder how would-be con artists get their lists.

The list of crooked offers never stops and goes on and on. However, I have always wondered why anyone would fall for such an obvious con attempt. I quickly delete these e-mails and would urge people to remember if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t get conned by a nameless crook a couple of continents away.

Telephone sales calls are another opportunity for the scammer. Telephone sales personnel assume that because I’m on the very mature side, I am in need of their help. The other day somebody called with information concerning a motorized wheelchair. The salesperson said they understood someone had suffered a stroke. I said that would be me. The salesperson then asked how I got around. I pointed out there was a simple answer: “I walk.” I got a quick hang-up.

I have never accepted an unsolicited telephone or e-mail offer. As far as I’m concerned, I deal with local merchants that I can talk to face-to-face. When the project is done, I know that I will get a quality job and that I’m helping the local economy.

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