Scamming 101

Posted by on Aug 7, 2006 in Uncategorized | 1 comment

Yesterday I heard a story that I found both disgusting and sad. Other emotions that swelled within me included anger, shame, resentment and a little more shame.

When we lived in Omaha I worked at a church and it was like most jobs with it’s good and it’s bad. Please to be understanding, more good than bad. One of the bad aspects was the scamming. You might not realize that churches get hit up for money from random people by phone, email (mostly just the Nigerians there, but I didn’t want to leave out the most beloved of the group), fax (not even kidding) and, the most time-sucking of all, the walk-ins.

Now, I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that I am disgusting and sad. How could you work in a church and not realize the purpose of helping the needy, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free? Because they are not in need of money and because they are con artists.

Before I walk too far down this path, let me make the important stipulation that there are those who are truly in need. Those who show up or call with very legitimate problems are always welcome, always helped. But let me tell you that in the five years of fielding at least three requests for financial assistance per week, I can count on one hand the number of families who were in the legitimate category. Most of them were just playing us.

One typically hot summer day a woman showed up with a baby in her arms, both of them dirty and sweaty. She said she was stuck in the city and they lived a little ways south of town but were out of gas. She also needed some help with food, if we could help with that too. I spoke with her for a while and after assessing that there was a good deal of truth, regardless of how she arrived in the need, I passed her over to a pastor.

The baby had been fussy while we were speaking and I offered to take him to the nursery while the two spoke in my office. I could tell that his diaper hadn’t been changed all day, it was soaked through and he was stinky. The diaper rash told me that he probably went around like this fairly often. I cleaned him up and put some ointment on his rash and he calmed down quite a bit.

Returning to the office I created two certificates for her to use – one for gas and one for food.

She went her way and I was glad to have helped.

Two days later I was at the store when I saw that same woman RETURNING all of the formula, diapers and canned foods she’d purchased with our certificate. I didn’t do a thing. I just watched in mouth-gaping horror as she got her money and left, presumably to purchase a dime bag or a rock or some other method of highness.

Not long after that we stopped the whole certificate process and started giving the money we had been spending to a local organization that specializes in weeding out the scammers and providing legitimate help to those with legitimate needs. They have a vast knowledge of state agencies and are a great link between individuals and organizations that do not exist for the sole purpose of aiding the poor. That is their purpose and they fulfill it very well, with compassion and professionalism and thoroughness – all in all a great solution to the problem that was beating down our door literally every other day.

Once the word got out in the scamming world that we were working through the other organization, the requests were all but gone. Why? I don’t know exactly, but I’m pretty sure it’s because all of these scammers live in the same apartment complex and talk to each other about how to get the most buck for their phone call.

All of that to get to the emotional surge I experienced yesterday during the morning service. The pastor was talking about a woman who came in looking for help and who played the spiritual trump card in her hand. She didn’t know anything about God and could he please tell her and let her ask questions because the last person who tried to tell her, told her to “Shut up” when she asked him a question. The congregation shook their heads and gasped at such a horrific thing to say to someone when they have a spiritual question.

I wanted to scream, “Of course that didn’t happen to her! The scammers will say ANYTHING to get your money!” I’ve seen it with my own eyes so many times I could reenact the whole scene right now:

She tells you about her financial need.
You ask her about her spiritual one.
She says she doesn’t know anything about that.
You tell her.
She accepts.
You feel great about it and are now more willing than ever to put a little certificate or even cash money in her hands.

But, of course, I didn’t do anything. I just listened and felt all of those things I told you I felt.

The ones that linger are anger and shame; anger at the seemingly obvious scam and shame that I am so deeply jaded.

One Comment

  1. The reality of our world and the sin we live in disgusts me, but so many times I am naive to it. Thank you for the much needed reality check on my part.As Dr. Phil would say “You cannot change what you do not acknowledge”. So Thank You,Kim for your honesty. And God, thank you that you put up with the scammers.

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