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Staying positive despite scams and fraud around us

by Nawaz Merchant
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Remember the old adage, ‘If it’s too good to be true, it probably is (false)’. Stay alert yet believe in the goodness of humanity. Most people we come across are not out to exploit us.  

Why are we so interested in crime shows, crime news, famous and infamous cases? Our national news bursts with domestic tragedies, serial killers, political corruption, and fraud. Wrongdoing fascinates us. We seem wired to pay attention because it sets us on high alert. Perhaps our brain’s evolutionary mechanism kicks in to search for red flags, clues that might protect us in the foreseeable future.

As a grad student in my early 20s, I heard my economic professor Stephen Karlson’s dictum with a trace of amusement. “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is (false)’. But in the last three decades, over and over again he’s been proven right. So, when we go through these tribulations, how can we keep our optimism and believe in the goodness of humanity?

While job-hunting, a recruiter invited me to apply for ‘UN Jobs’. His email laid out international positions with attractive pay grades. However, there were no interviews, only a written questionnaire. When a friend of mine completed the process, she received an authentic-looking offer letter. As she prepared to relocate to Hong Kong, the recruiter demanded $7,000 “as a deposit on your international housing allocation.” Aha, a scam! The United Nations does not use recruiters and only accepts applications through its online system. Scammers were exploiting the desperation of unemployed professionals.

Recently I clicked on an Instagram advertisement entitled, ‘Bed Bath and Beyond Closeouts’. I knew that Bed Bath & Beyond was closing stores, but a clothing outlet? That was news. The clothes were incredibly well-priced—pretty linen blouses at $6.29! But each item had a different sizing chart, a red flag.  ‘30-day money back guarantee!’ it said on the final page where I would enter a credit card. Here I noticed that my payment would go to a Hong Kong company, and I stopped.

So, what proof of purchase did I have? Nothing. Websites disappear. Do we even try to save a link while we’re shopping? How can we when there’s no ‘share’ icon? This site’s countdown clock told me I had 50 minutes to shop and complete my purchases. It ensured I would hurry through the selections (9 pages of products), struggle with size charts, then rush to pay, to avoid getting timed out. No, friend, not for me.

TV series often show serial killers trolling for victims on dating apps. Shows like Dexter, Somebody, and Dating Game Killer simultaneously fascinate and repel us. But many dating apps list a “What are you looking for?” section and include income and other personal details. These, they claim to be “open only to members”. Sure, women should be skeptical, but I propose, so should men! A woman seeking a partner with income ‘over $200K’ is telling you exactly what she is.

Some will say, “But that’s how people find their partner these days!” No, friend, people have always found partners through their networks, through getting to know their partner in person. Not all dating apps and profiles are catfishing, but many are, alas.

Scammers exploit our desires, our need for a car, our desperation for a good job, our excitement for a good deal, and our hope for an attractive partner. So, the red flags are: If the transaction is time-bound, beware. If there’s no written offer, beware. If the offer is too attractive, beware of clickbait. If you are asked to send money, beware. If the company is international, beware. If the attractive partner sounds like a gold digger, beware. If it’s too good to be true, beware. Trust your intrinsic skepticism.  

So how can we maintain our emotional balance and optimism despite constant scams and traps?

  1. Avoid generalizations like, ‘all Malayalis are like this, all Sindhis are like that’. There are many more decent people than the vile ones in every community, every country, in wealthy families and in poor ones, and in every faith community. Avoid trusting people just because of their religion or profession.
  2. Recognize that what others do is up to them, but your emotions and reactions are within your own control. Because someone has ripped you off in the past does not make everyone a potential suspect!
  3. If you’ve been scammed, don’t be ashamed. Shame on the scammer or criminal. Recognize it, accept it, and move on.
  4. Recognize your own personhood, your independent unique gifts of empathy and compassion. Use them wisely.
  5. Pull away when your instinct advises. Be attuned to your feelings and detach yourself if a relationship becomes one-sided or exploitative. You are precious and valuable, your thoughts and feelings matter. You are worthy of respect. Drop interactions where you are not respected.
  6. Be joyful. The world is full of beauty, music, wonder, and excitement. The future is rich with warm, generous people and wonderful possibilities!

A vast majority of the people we meet are not out to exploit us. Maintaining boundaries, being cautious, and paying attention to our surroundings help us maintain our personal safety. Just so, we can be vigilant of our emotional perspective and become resilient.

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Writing as Nev March, Nawaz Merchant’s historical mystery Murder in Old Bombay won Minotaur/ MWA and Audiofile awards. It portrays themes of feminism and race in an action-adventure mystery. The sequel, Peril at the Exposition was published in 2022. Her third book The Spanish Diplomat’s Secret will be launched this September.

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