Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Greg Jordan

May 17, 2012

Sometimes it is best not to help a total stranger when she is asking for money

It seems like every time I turn around, somebody wants some of my money. Most of the time it’s for a legitimate reason such as those bills that keep showing up in my mailbox. As soon as I pay one, a fresh request for cash arrives. That’s just part of life.

Then there are the not so legitimate requests for funding or information. For instance, not long ago I received an email from a bank requesting that I verify my information. The message looked professional and just like something one would expect from a bank. It seems that the bank wanted to verify my account numbers.

There was just one problem. The message wasn’t from my bank. I now know it was an example of “phishing” or firing out thousands of baited emails to see who would bite. I know from doing more than one story about scams is that banks never call or email customers for that type of information; they should already have it. If you get such a message, call your bank.

I’ve gotten dozens of other email appeals. One was submitted by a person who said she was a London art dealer who needed help cashing American travelers checks. She works in one of the financial capitals of the world, and she appeals to a total stranger for help? Either it was a scam or somebody who is way too trusting. The same applies for the appeals I’ve received from foreign officials who decided that I’m just the person to help with a deal worth millions of dollars. An offer to buy the Brooklyn Bridge sounds slightly more rational.

These approaches are delivered by high tech means that were unavailable not so long ago. Unfortunately, not all people who scam others for money use computers. There are still some who use the old-fashioned approach. They talk to their victims face-to-face.

The Mercer County Sheriff’s Department is working an instance in which people claiming to be with the Mercer County Bible in the Schools program went door-to-door to appeal for donations. Two individuals allegedly involved in the scam are now in custody.

Well, the people who donated some money shouldn’t feel bad. It’s easy to be deceived, and I should know. Years ago when I was attending Marshall University in Huntington, I lost $50 to a scam.

It was a hot summer day. I was sharing an apartment with a classmate and taking some summer classes so I could graduate earlier. There wasn’t much to do, so I was on the front porch reading some paperback book when she approached me.

She was brunette, about my age and had a short and very pretty haircut. And being summer, she was wearing a little T-shirt and shorts. Needless to say, I was happy when she asked if we could talk.

I quickly learned that she was selling magazine subscriptions to earn a little extra money, and she wanted to know if I would be interested? Oh, I was interested, all right. However, I was little reluctant, too. My personal budget wasn’t overflowing with cash.

Well, she overcame my reluctance. She told me what a hard time she was having, and didn’t I want to help her? Sure, I wanted to help her, so I picked out some magazines — telling myself I was doing some early Christmas shopping — and got out my checkbook. By the time I got through the catalog, she had talked me up to $50.

“You’re sweet,” she said as I paid up, and gave me a little kiss on the cheek. I was smitten. Then she left, taking that check and a little piece of my heart with her.

Of course, I never heard from her again and never got any magazines. Then I realized that I had been scammed and there wasn’t much that I could do about it.

Today I think of that money as $50 well spent. No, the kiss wasn’t quite that good. It’s just that I learned to be a lot more suspicious. Now I look at a request for cash with critical eyes and find out more about the charity or whatever before I make any donations. I’ll trust friends and family, but requests from strangers — no matter how pretty — get more than a second look. And I definitely don’t hand over a check with all those personal numbers on it.

Once in a great while – like right now – I wonder about that girl and what she did with that $50. I find myself hoping she got a decent share of it and got something nice. Then again, maybe justice was done and she got cheated out of the share she was promised. What was she going to do, go to the police?

I know that ploy wouldn’t work on me today, being older with dents and dings earned the hard way. Yes, I know there are those of us who lament lost youth and everything that comes with it, but there are things worth losing. She wouldn’t con me so easily today.

Greg Jordan is the Daily Telegraph’s senior reporter. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com

 

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