Friday, February 24, 2006

Sceptical about... common sense

Sometimes, in my less than tolerant and easy-going moments (Yes, I DO have them occasionally) I'm astounded by the lack of simple common sense that some people display. Every week it seems that there's a story in the papers of someone who's been conned out of their hard-earned money or has given it all to a charlatan prophet in the hope of salvation or a miracle and has probably not seen them since.

Recently there was a story in the papers about a filling station manager in Francistown who had been conned out of P85,000. Apparently some guys approached him and told him that they had a magic box that multiplied money. All he had to do was put his own money in the box and miraculously it would increase. So he did. And you know what? They distracted him and ran off with the money. OK, so you are probably all thinking the same as me.

But the most remarkable thing about this story? They came back again the next day and he fell for it again! I really can't think how to describe (in polite terms) what I think about this, errr…. critically challenged individual.

Luckily the con artists who pulled this one off were caught and prosecuted but why isn't the victim being prosecuted for gullibility? Oh yes, I forgot. It's not illegal to be gullible. In my intolerant moments (and this is one of them) I think it should be illegal to be so foolish.

But how did it come to this? Presumably the victim is a reasonably bright guy. He must be, he runs a filling station. I have huge admiration for filling station managers. They have to be Finance Managers, HR Managers, Sales Executives, Stock Control experts and General Managers all rolled into one. It's high pressure, demanding work that requires the person to be constantly switched on. So how on earth did such a person fall for such nonsense?

It's not just that this particular guy was dreadfully gullible. It's as much a tribute to the quality of the con artists we have. Con artists are clever people. We should be proud to be in a nation that produces such imaginative people. They are specialists who prey on the gullible, the desperate and the innocent (that's a polite way of putting it). But surely we can see through their scams?

Why do smart people continue to fall for cons? Why don't we learn? Part of it is that con artists usually prey on one of our most disreputable characteristics: greed. So many of us want to get something for nothing and worse still, think that’s it’s actually possible to do so. We don't want to work to make money; we think we can get rich quickly without doing the work we know it actually takes.

So when they turn up and offer us something that is clearly too good to be true, like a magical box that multiplies money, our first thought is of the money, not of how ridiculous the idea is.

The same goes for all the internet-based cons, the so-called 419 scams which all revolve around an offer out of the blue, from a total stranger, usually about an opportunity to help him extract millions of dollars from Nigeria. You are offered 10% of the total sum as payment for your services. However, as soon as you're hooked, they tell you that you need to pay an advance fee, maybe legal fees, account opening fees or taxes. Funnily enough as soon as you pay these fees the con artists disappear.

These scams are obviously fakes aren’t they? If we engage our brains for more than a moment we must realise it. But thousands of people all over the world have fallen for them, giving away millions of dollars. How on earth do people believe that a total stranger will appear out of nowhere, offering them a few million dollars? This simply doesn't happen. Ever.

Do I really have to say this? There’s no such thing as a free lunch. If someone you've never met before offers you something that is clearly too fantastic to be true then the truth is clear. He's lying and wants to steal money from you.

So what about common sense? It’s been said before but I think it’s worth repeating.

Common sense isn’t.

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