Thieves in the market place

(Tribune May 2007)

There are thieves in the marketplace.

It is a story told by grandmothers. As little girls in the old country, they were always warned. Hold onto your purse when you go to the market. Watch for rough swarthy men. There are thieves in the marketplace.

I was travelling with a group of Canadians in what had been an iron curtain country. We were warned; there are thieves in the marketplace, and thieves on the subways.  Thieves mingle in the crowd that gathers on the square to watch the ancient clock.  They have done so since the clock was new. One member of our group was swarmed.  He lost his money, credit cards and travel documents. There are thieves. They are real.

There are thieves in our modern market places. We use the Internet for commerce, but we do not heed the grandmothersí warning. We do not carefully hold onto our purses.  Emails are received looking legitimate with seemingly reasonable requests for information. Often we are intimidated and we respond. The emails are fakes. We receive phone calls from cheery and friendly voices that are conducting polls. We are seduced by the voices, and we answer questions. We then receive strange invoices in the mail or unauthorized charges on our credit cards, or questionable withdrawals from our bank accounts. Thieves are stealing our money. Thieves have stolen our identity.  We must warn and teach our children and grandchildren. We must always be suspicious. There are thieves. They are real.

Not all thieves are rough swarthy men. Many thieves dress well and speak in educated modulated tones. They drive expensive cars, and live in large houses. They want to be our friends. They convince us that if we give them our money, they will make it multiply, and we will become rich like them. They offer unheard of rates of return and multiple tax advantages. It sounds too good to be true. They tell us that their methods are complicated and only understood by professionals. When the money disappears, they blame the government for changing the rules. They blame the big banks for putting them out of business. It is never their fault. They never admit blame. They are thieves.  They are real.

Some thieves appeal to our fears. They have TV shows where they do mysterious healing of undefined ailments on long lines of believers. They tell us to send them money. Send them money, and we will be blessed. Send them money, and it will be used to help save mankind. They always need more money. If they find out our phone numbers, they call for more. We must be sceptical. We must ask probing questions.  Many of them are fakes. Many are thieves.

We pride ourselves in our advanced education, and our sophisticated lifestyle. We boast that we are better, smarter, and richer than those who have come before us. We are wrong. We really are very naive. We really are very greedy. Thieves prey on the naive and the greedy. That is why there are so many thieves. They are real.

The grandmothersí message is more appropriate today then ever. We must listen to their strong warnings.

Protect your purse. Beware of thieves.

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