Someone posed the question above to us recently, and it really made us think. The Better Business Bureau would like to start by saying that the vast majority of people are honest; scammers make up a very small percentage of our society. In fact, the argument could be made that a significant portion of the scams that target Americans originate outside our country. But, to be sure, there’s no shortage of dishonest operators doing ‘business’ right here in the U.S. And as the saying goes, a few bad apples can certainly spoil the bunch.
We live in a world where things are always happening; some good, most innocuous, and some horrifying and tragic. Strangely, it’s often the sad events – natural disasters, accidents – that pull us together as a society, reminding us all of our humanity and the simple fact that we all share the same space. When disaster strikes, such as the Haiti earthquake or the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and people are suffering, the first reaction of most people is, ‘How can I help?’ But there is that small percentage whose first thought is always, ‘How can I profit from this?’ These people know that money will soon be flowing to the affected areas and the people that live there, but that’s of no importance to them. What matters is figuring out a way to divert at least some of that money into their pockets.
What makes people act like this is a question best left to the experts, such as psychologists and sociologists. Anthropologists would also have some perspective on this, as theft is something that goes back to Biblical times and has afflicted – and afflicts – most societies in one form or another. To be sure, having worked to uncover and expose fraudulent offers for almost 100 years, the BBB has a wealth of knowledge to draw from on this subject. In our view, the most obvious answer to the question of why scammers are always so quick to try to capitalize on disasters and human suffering may have been uttered many years ago by Willie Sutton, a bank robber who said he robbed banks because ‘that’s where the money was.’ It might be as simple as that.
This could explain why we heard about employment scams in the wake of the oil spill in the Gulf; why we heard about fake charity scams in the aftermath of both Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake; why scammers monitor obituary notices in the hopes of defrauding grieving widows and widowers: the opportunity to profit is there.
Say what you will about scammers, but many of them are not stupid. Some are, but they don’t usually stay out of jail long to have much of an impact. No, the professional scammers know that there’s opportunity in times of trouble. They know that caring people will be opening their pocketbooks and thinking with their hearts, not their heads, and are thus vulnerable to scams and fraudulent schemes. What’s their motive, you might ask? Their motive is their own financial gain, and opportunity plus motive generally equals crime.
It’s a simple and yes, a rather sad equation. For consumers, however, the answer to that equation is to simply be on guard. Scammers are always a concern; that’s a fact of life. But people shouldn’t let that fact make them cynical. If you do your research at http://www.bbb.org/us/charity/ (The BBB Wise Giving Alliance), you can be sure your donations are going towards legitimate charities that will make sure the money gets to where it’s needed most.