Inner City Diary
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Don't be a sucker for every sob story
January 27, 2002
This week Iíve been doing some thinking about scammers and suckers.

Scammers. Con artists. Sometimes it seems like theyíre everywhere. Always someone thatís ready, willing and able to take your money, stuff or time.

Suckers. Was it P.T. Barnum who said thereís one born every minute?

It seems that the two find each other with unfortunate frequency. And maybe thatís because they have more in common than they realize. Can it be that if suckers werenít looking to get something they didnít earn, they wouldnít buy the stories of the scammers? Itís a known fact that con artists try to lever greed, desire for status and fantasy to their advantage.

Iím not saying we let all con artists off the hook and blame ourselves, butÖ

Say someone calls or e-mails you to inform you of some great prize or trip you won in a contest you didnít enter. All they need is some money to get your free prize delivered to you. How much would you send?

Say someone lets you know about a way to make a quick buck, but you have to invest some of your money in a rush. The times vary, but itís always not enough time to do a full investigation. What would possess you to invest without investigating?

Iím not much of an economist. Anything I learned about economics I learned from my immigrant parents. You donít spend more than you have unless thereís no other choice, and then you pay it off as quickly as possible. Most of us have more ability to save money than to demand more. If you want to have enough money, work hard enough to earn it. Work hard and sleep well. Get up again the next morning and do it again.

But for some, even these basics are too difficult to comprehend.

Iíve seen lots of con artists ply their trade in our community. There was one guy who poked holes in condoms, got his wife pregnant and then tried to sue the condom company for child support. Others are experts at getting or stealing items which they can try to return to stores for refunds. Others sell stolen goods from the trunks of cars or in corners of local bars.

Weíve got lots of scammers in our neighbourhood as well. Sometimes folk Iíve seen around the neighbourhood come knocking at the door of our church. ďIím new in town with my family and I need some financial help until I can get a job or help from welfare.Ē My first response is usually to act like I havenít heard the request, commenting, ďIíve seen you around the neighbourhood for awhile. What were you saying?Ē

But some wonít give up that easy. ďMy kids are hungry and I figured you would help cause Iíve heard youíre a really good guy, not like all those other ministers and all those other churches.Ē At this point the appeal comes to my desire to be a hero, to maintain my status as a nice helper, or just to be more humane than all those other people who wouldnít help out. At this point theyíre checking me out for some vulnerability to cash in on.

Occasionally I hear, ďIf you canít help me, at least help my kids.Ē Itís getting harder now. My imagination takes over. I picture kids sitting diaperless on the floor, with famine-distended stomachs and eyes swollen from crying. But all too often Iím wakened from this nightmare from another shot of smoke from the chain smoking parent, or catch a whiff of last nightís case of beer pouring from their pores. Usually I make a wise crack about smoking $47.49 cartons of poison is not an inalienable right when youíve got starving kids at home.

Donít get me wrong. Iím not totally cynical, but I am a lot more careful than I used to be!

I know that there really are people who are new in town. There really are people who just got a job but wonít get paid for two weeks, while their kids need food and clothes today. I know there are kids who are hungry in Winnipeg through no fault of their own. There are parents who need public assistance who have to take money from their food budgets just to pay the extra rent which welfare wonít cover to get a place thatís safe and clean. There are people who get ripped off and have no resources to tide them over.

But, since our resources are limited, we are forced to make tough choices. We listen carefully to try to make sure that what little extra we have gets to the people who we believe need it most. Itís humbling and even humiliating work. I hate saying no. But Iíll do it if I have to.
Copyright 2002
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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New Life Ministries
514 Maryland Street
Winnipeg, Mb R3G 1M5
(204) 775-4929

lehotsky@escape.ca