Editor’s Note: Tom Beutel, a regular contributor to PeaceSigns, is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Balancing Acts is a monthly feature of PeaceSigns.
by Tom Beutel
See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
Matthew 10:16 (NRSV)
Jesus’ words from Matthew 10 are included in his instructions to his disciples as he sends them out on their own to proclaim the kingdom of God and to do miracles and cure the sick. So, it may be a bit of a stretch to apply these words to the topic of this article: scams. Nevertheless, I think they may get us pointed in the right direction.
I recently had an email claiming that the sender needed me to “verify” some information so that a sum of money (over $2000) could be released. Needless to say, I did not give the information. But, it did get me thinking about scams and the vulnerability of many, particularly in the internet age, to such schemes.
The Free Dictionary (www.thefreedictionary.com) defines a scam as a fraudulent scheme or swindle, or to deprive of by deceit. Interestingly, it also defines to “scam on” as slang for “to kiss or caress.” I mention this in light of Judas’ kiss of Jesus which was used to betray him, a fraudulent show of affection intended to deprive Jesus of his freedom! The human inclination to deceive and defraud is nothing new.
According to CNN Money, “More than 8 in 10 consumers have received a ‘potentially fraudulent offer,'” and, “of those targeted, about 11% said they lost ‘a significant amount of money’ by falling for a scam.” (money.cnn.com/2013/09/12/pf/financial-scams/). The site also states that “elderly respondents were 34% more likely to have lost money than people in their 40s,” This is because older adults are generally thought to be more trusting and to have more savings. (www.stopseniorscams.org/#)
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) says that financial scams targeting seniors are considered to be “the crime of the 21st century.” (www.ncoa.org/enhance-economic-security/economic-security-Initiative/savvy-saving-seniors/top-10-scams-targeting.html)
The UK takes the issue of scamming so seriously that they have a “Scam Awareness Month” each May with public announcements and other promotions aimed at protecting people from fraud. We, as Christians and as peacemakers, might also take this issue seriously and take steps to help make ourselves and others aware of the problem of scams, and how to be “wise as serpents” to avoid scams.
Here are some steps we can take:
Be aware of common scams Information is available at several sites:
- National Council on Aging: Top 10 Scams Targeting Seniors ncoa.org/enhance-economic-security/economic-security-Initiative/savvy-saving-seniors/top-10-scams-targeting.html
- The Guardian: 27 common scams to avoid theguardian.com/money/2013/may/02/27-common-scams-to-avoid
Understand risks and ways in which you or your friends or family may be vulnerable to a scam:
- AARP Quiz: Are You an Easy Target for Scammers? aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2014/scam-easy-target-quiz.html
- Citizens Advice Bureau: Scams Awareness Month-Take the Quiz citizensadvice.org.uk/index/campaigns/current_campaigns/recent_campaigns/sam14.htm
Follow guidelines for avoiding being the victim of a scam. Here are a few basic ones.
- If it seems too good to be true, it probably is (too good to be true).
- Never send money to someone you don’t know.
- Don’t reply to email or phone messages if you do not know who is contacting you. If a message appears to be from someone you know, email them (not as a reply) and ask if they did email you. Banks and other institutions will never email asking for information or for verification of information.
- Carefully check monthly credit card and bank statements to be sure that there are not charges that you do not recognize.
- Keep personal and financial information safe and confidential (Social Security number, bank and credit card account numbers, etc.)
- Report suspicious communications or other possible fraud at sites like stopfraud.gov/report.html
Finally, consider ways that your local community or your community of faith can raise awareness of this issue. It is one way that we can protect others from harm. Ideas might include: having a scam awareness week, writing a letter to the editor or your local paper, having a youth group make posters and put them up at church and in the community. Whatever you do, don’t ignore the problem. Be “wise as serpents.”