Saturday, 18 May 2013

Who can you trust?

Who can you trust to protect you? Who can you trust to protect your interests? Maybe even above their own?

With a little luck you have family and friends who’ll look after you but don’t ever think that someone selling you something will put your needs ahead of theirs. I‘m not saying that everyone is trying to rip you off, on the contrary, just that they’re always going to put their interests first.

As Adam Smith, the moral philosopher and economist, said in The Wealth of Nations, nearly 250 years ago:
“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self interest.”
He didn’t mean “self interest” to mean selfishness, just that the “the butcher, the brewer or the baker” are always going to put the needs of their family above anyone else’s, as any of us would. Of course smart butchers, brewers and bakers realise that the best way to do this is to treat us fairly so we keep coming back to buy their meat, beer and bread.

So understanding that even the most decent shop owner is going to put his or her interests above yours, who can you trust? I don’t know, but I CAN tell you who you should NOT trust. The list is a long one.

You can’t trust the Internet for a start. Much as we all like the Internet as a source of entertainment, information and education you have to be very careful about what you believe because the Internet is overflowing with hoaxes, scams and deceptions. For instance several times in the last few weeks I’ve seen a post on Facebook that begins:
“Urgent - please read - from South African police. Pass this on! If a person called Simon Ashton (simon25@hotmai­ contacts you through email don't open the message. Delete it immediately because he is a hacker!!”
It goes on to warn that if you open his email
“you will LOSE EVERYTHING IN YOUR PC, And the person who sent it to you will gain access to your name, e-mail and password.”
This, you might have guessed, is entirely untrue. It’s yet another Internet hoax whose only purpose is to spread as far and wide throughout the Internet. This particular example has been circulating for years and the South African example is just the newest version.

So don’t trust anything from the Internet you read on your computer, tablet or phone unless you have a good reason to do so.

You should also mistrust anyone who offers you computer software at less than the normal price. I heard recently of a guy handing out leaflets at junctions in Gabz that said “get your computer fixed at home or at work”. So far so good, quite enterprising you might think, but he spoiled things by also suggesting in the leaflet that he could activate Windows for a mere P50 and Microsoft Office for P80. That seems like a real bargain, but only because he’s trading in stolen property and that’s no bargain at all. There is no legitimate way you can get Windows or Office installed for as little as that.

He’s not the only one of course, there are plenty of people who’ll offer licenced software at unbelievably low prices, all of them trading in stolen goods. If they’re happy to steal from Microsoft, do you really think you can trust them not to steal from you as well? And they are stealing from you, don’t be misled. The stolen software they give you isn’t yours either, but they have your money and they’re unlikely to give it back.

And it’s not just guys at junctions and on Facebook who do this. I heard of a major store recently who sold a customer a laptop and then the shop assistant offered to install Microsoft Office for her from a memory stick for P500, to help her “save some money”. It was only later when she realised that this might not have been entirely proper. That shop assistant has now been suspended and probably won’t get his job back. He’s shown he can’t be trusted not to steal from either Microsoft, his employer or their customers.

And then there are psychics. You can’t trust them either. You’ll have seen the recent story from the USA where three young women were freed from the clutches of the man who had abducted, imprisoned and repeatedly raped them for a decade. The story is appalling but at least there was some good news when the women were finally freed. However in 2004 the mother of one of the women, Amanda Berry, was part of the audience of the Montel Williams TV show when his guest was the “psychic”, Sylvia Browne. When the mother asked Browne for news on her daughter, Browne replied “She’s not alive, honey” seemingly not knowing that she was alive in a Cleveland dungeon at that very moment. To add to the tragedy, Mrs Berry died a few years later thinking that her daughter was dead, never to know the truth.

Browne has made a career of making up stories like this. She says she’s helped find many missing people and to have helped solve murder cases over the years but despite claiming to have a success rate of “somewhere between 87 and 90 percent” she has, according to skeptical investigators, never solved even one. She’s a liar and a fraud.

“Psychics” like Sylvia Browne are repulsive exploiters of distraught and desperate people, just like anyone claiming to have supernatural, magical powers. Just like the traditional healers who offer miracle cures for everything from lost love to AIDS, they’re either stupid, deranged or liars. Some of them are all three.

The lesson is a simple one. Only believe those people who have already shown themselves to be believable. Treat everyone else as untrustworthy until there’s evidence to the contrary.

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