Thursday, April 05, 2018

Can you spot a con artist?

“My baby boy has stomach cancer. He's in a hospital in Chicago,” said a young man to a group of pastors that were meeting at an inner-city church one night.

Heart broken for this young man they prayed for his sick son. After the prayer the young man said he was trying to get train fare to get to Chicago. He just got out of the county jail and needed money.

You could see the disappointment immediately appear in their faces. They'd been had. Questions flashed through their minds.

“Why was he released from jail without documentation?”

“Do they release prisoners at night?”

“Where is his family?”

“What was his plan before he found a church with lights on?

His lies were very thin and easily exposed because he followed a familiar pattern. First, there is the disease. It's better if it's a child, a parent or a pregnant woman. Second, there is a travel motif. Getting to the hospital or back home; sometimes a hotel room for the night. Third, the monetary need is an odd number: $17, $65, etc. Fourth, someone has already provided funds and they just need a little bit more. Fifth, the person requesting help is a stranger. Sixth, the need is urgent.

The lies are in the details. What is the problem? Is it the disease? Are you trying to get home? Do you need a job? The problems seem insurmountable but the immediate solution appears to be monetary. You are overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness that can be quickly resolved by giving up a few bucks. At this point we just want to feel better by getting rid of troubled soul. We will never see them again (the travel motif). We just want them out of our way.

Con artists work on your emotions and read your face to measure your response. That is why the story has so many details. I don't suggest we ignore requests for money. I suggest that we determine what the real need is and how best to address it. That is the most loving and helpful thing to do.

On the other hand, con artists target folks with surplus funds who are looking for the most expedient thing to do. It is difficult to balance compassion with common sense. These decisions cannot be rushed so, my decision is to pray and think. If this is a real problem it did not happen overnight and it cannot be solved in one day. There is no rush. If it's a con, it will go away. If the need is real, it will still be there in the morning.

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