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{23/05/2012}   Conmen and falling for scams

I watched a 1955 Fellini last night, Il Bidone (The Swindle).  The film centres around a 48-year old conman who’s growing increasingly disillusioned with the way he “earns” his money, swindling peasants out of all the money they can cobble together.  Despite it being set in 1955 Italy, it struck a chord, humankind’s vulnerability when it comes to making easy money.

The reason the peasants in this film hand over their money is under the influence of religion (the conmen dress as priests) and that the cash is in exchange for a box of treasures they are convinced is worth way more than the cash they need to stump up to honour the last will and testament of the deceased who left the treasure with his murdered victim (some random bones are dug up with the treasure on the peasants’ land), saying it is to be kept by the owners of the land, and wants to repent (the money to be handed over to the priests is for masses).  With a degree of uncertainty, the peasants collect together their money and are left with fake treasure.

I guess “too good to be true” should have rung bells, but if someone you trust, or someone you want to trust, offers you the opportunity to break out of your cycle of poverty, wouldn’t you do it?  Nowadays there are loads of scams, emails from people claiming to need a bank transfer for a few thousand in return for a million (see, too good to be true!), people offering you services or products that are far cheaper than they should be.  It’s human nature to be wary, but it’s also human nature to want to try or do anything to get yourself out of, in this case, poverty.

I like to think I’m really sceptical and would never fall for anything like this but I did use Groupon for a while and there was a treatment offer, a really good offer, so I followed the link to the website of the Harley Street clinic and there in front of me was an amazing website littered with endorsements from just about every fashion magazine and celebrity I knew.  But it didn’t stop me buying the £49 voucher (in exchange for c£129 worth of treatments).  Long and short of it is that the company was a scam and it was only after months and months of chasing that finally Groupon refunded me.  I don’t use Groupon anymore, I know a lot of people do (and I did, successfully, before that).  I trusted Groupon and I trusted the clinic’s website.  But how far can we let niggles and “Oh, surely that’s too good to be true” affect our decisions?  Surely there is a chance, especially in a long spell of economic uncertainty and stress, that we will all become less trusting, more cynical … or is that just being smart with your money?

It was a great film, maybe you’ll be pleased to know that the lead conman died a slow and lonely death, but his cohorts were already off planning their next scam and no doubt easily finding another “priest” to take his place, and so the cycle carries on.

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