In my book, I touch on four personal experiences of fraud. First: A compassionate friend arranges for me to receive a welfare check, then promptly steals it from my mailbox. Next, a progressive, liberal developer takes a $45,000 deposit on a condo to be built, then dramatically increases the property’s “cost”, and then tells me he will keep the deposit if I don’t come up with the difference. Finally, a warm-hearted woman in the anti-poverty field tricks me into transferring my project to her. And so on.
I was an easy mark: seeing the best in people, giving the benefit of the doubt, trusting, and intent on being kind, polite, and patient. These are wonderful traits, but also precisely the ones a con artist looks for in a potential mark. They are conscious of their actions, strategic, and relying on the mark’s emotions and natural leaning toward relationship.
This is not to say we need to be robots, or isolate ourselves from others. Tricksters abound, yes, but I do believe there are far more trustworthy, honest people than frauds. Rather than hide from the world, we do well to make a habit of good self-care.
1. Go slow. No legitimate deal is available “only until midnight tonight.” Every sound proposal is available for a reasonable length of time: Enough for you to consider it, ask questions, revise a contract.
2. Upon any proposal, double-check. Ask the police if an email seems legit or not. Ask a lawyer if a contract protects your interests as well as the other party’s. Independently look up the contact information for any authority referenced in a letter and contact it. Anyone worth handing money over to will not mind one iota when you ask the professional of your choice for an opinion.
3. The more you feel your heart-strings being tugged, the more you must turn to logic. Walk away. Take a breather for at least several days. Ask questions. Point out flaws. Review the matter closely with a support worker or friend. Require promises, caveats, and details in writing.
4. As soon as you realize you’re about to be stolen from, or already have been, contact the police and, if relevant, a lawyer. Quick action is far more likely to see the situation turned around. Fraudsters rely on a mark’s uncertainty and embarrassment. Override those to take control back.
5. If you have been conned, come out of the closet. Share your story. Refuse to feel embarrassed. You’re not stupid; you were played by a person with deep strategy, lots of practice, and no conscience. None of this reflects a lack in you, only in the conner.
Even the most intelligent, savvy, careful person can be defrauded. By becoming aware of what scams commonly occur, taking some moments to allow logic to replace emotion, and contacting a local authority independently to double-check any proposal, you can avert most attempted acts of fraud. By reporting any scam you are the victim of, and talking openly and freely about such a painful experience, you can heal from the few that squeak through your system of preventative checks and balances.
Some wonderful books on engaging fully in life while also reasonably protecting oneself include The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker and, for those comfortable with Christian references, Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud. Check out these and any other resources that explore “red flags.” Watch your region’s newspapers, too, for stories and warnings of scams currently moving through your area: read them, take note of what actions are recommended, and continue on your merry way.
In subsequent posts, I’ll present odd scenarios that, in my opinion, do and do not constitute fraud. I believe some of them will surprise you!