Friday 13 February 2009

No end to naivete?

“No end to naivete?”

Yes, I know I’ve been going on and on about scams and scammers recently but it really seems that there’s no end to them.

Last week I wrote about the “John Major Foundation” scammers that had ripped off a theatre group in Francistown. They were supposedly offered a trip to the UK to attend a conference that didn’t in fact exist. Neither, of course, does the John Major Foundation.

However the scammers behind this fictitious organisation managed to persuade the group to pay over P18,000 for the accommodation they were expecting to enjoy in London. Of course anyone who has stayed in a hotel knows that you don’t pay for accommodation in advance. You pay when you check out, not before you’ve even checked in, not before you’ve even arrived in the country. You would think they would know that, don’t you?

Perhaps you’d also expect them to have been suspicious that this supposedly respectable Foundation operates using a free email address? Perhaps you would expect them to have been suspicious when they asked, not for a cheque, but for a Western Union transfer to pay for the accommodation?

But there’s no end to naivete. There’s also no end to people’s inability to stop digging, despite already being deep down a hole. That’s one of the things that scammers rely on. They rely on your emotions winning the battle against your common sense. Of course some people aren’t blessed with much common sense to start with. They’re at a natural disadvantage.

Other people seem naturally gullible. There are people who really believe that homeopathy, reflexology and energy medicine do something. There are people who believe joining a pyramid scheme like Success University will make them millionaires. There are people who believe that TV evangelists and preachers in flashy cars are genuine messengers from God and not just thieves. There are people who believe that total strangers will call them up and offer them millions of dollars, a free car or an all-expenses trip to the other side of the planet.

I’m not sure if it’s good news or bad news but we’re not the only ones who fall victim to ludicrous scams.

37,000 Japanese investors recently fell victim to a remarkably unbelievable scam. I suppose it says something about his ingenuity that Kazutsugi Nami was able to persuade so many people that he had invented his own currency and that they should give him their Yen in return for his imaginary “Enten”. Unbelievable, don’t you think?

Not so. Nami, a former bedding and health food supplier was able to persuade all these people that his new electronic money was soon to become an accepted currency. His investors were apparently promised annual returns of nearly 40%. A bizarre twist was that these returns WERE sometimes paid, but only in more Enten, not real money.

Eventually of course the whole fraud fell apart and Nami was arrested and charged. Some of his victims lost fortunes but least some of them seem to have learned their lesson. One 70-year old woman who lost the equivalent of over P100,000 was quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald as saying, “I was stupid. It's my fault as I was greedy.”

Not everyone is as realistic. When Mmegi contacted the Francistown group last week about the scam that we had discovered their organiser told the reporter that they were still not convinced that it was a scam. This is despite there being no John Major Foundation, no HIV/AIDS conference in London scheduled for the dates suggested and the John Major Foundation website being registered to an address in Lagos, Nigeria.

She was quoted as saying that she had no doubts about the invitation and that they expect to leave for London on February 25 to attend the conference from March 2 to March 12. "We are still waiting for our accommodation confirmation," she said.

She’s going to be waiting for a very long time.

Denial is a very powerful force in the human mind. We can all persuade ourselves that something is true or untrue despite all the evidence. We can persuade ourselves that buying on credit is a good idea and not going to cripple us financially. We can persuade ourselves that eating too much and not exercising isn’t relevant to us. But denial is something more.

Denial is almost wilful. Denial involves some deliberate self-deception. Smoking is a good example. Everyone knows smoking is dangerous. Everyone now knows that at least half of all people who smoke will die as a result of it but smokers still take the risk.

Surely everyone knows, deep down, that total strangers don’t cough up free cash, holidays or profits? Surely we all know that, don’t we? But so many of us seem to fall victim to that catastrophic mixture of gullibility, denial and, let’s not be ashamed to say it, greed. It’s greedy to want money, travel or fame without working for them.

Surely as consumers we DO know when we are being abused? Let’s be honest, it’s NOT actually that difficult to tell when you are being ripped off. Store credit as a sensible way to buy things, investment schemes offering amazing returns, lottery wins, free trips around the world, international job offers you didn’t apply for, they’re all too good to be true.

Of course I know things aren’t going to change overnight, there will always be the gullible who fall for scams but let’s do our best to be more skeptical?

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