By Robert Lalah
I once got scammed out of $50 by a man pretending to be a coconut vendor. I'll spare you the details, but insist that sweet revenge will be mine whenever he and I meet again. Let's just say that I'm not averse to giving him a stern talking to.
On a more serious note, I suppose I should try to get over it. Scamming is, after all, one of those words that have become part of our lives over the past few years, with new meaning and significance. It's right up there with 'trending', 'viral' and 'texting' - terms that can help define this period of our lives.
Now that the 'Jamaican lottery scam', as it is being called by foreign news media, is receiving so much attention, we're finally getting to see the real effects of this heartless con.
Dan Rather's special report on the scam, along with a CBS morning show feature and an NBC 'Today Show' report, all aired last week and exposed actual victims of the scam and the way in which their lives have been ruined.
For many persons, this was a sad eye-opener. Even if you were always ashamed of the scam and its affiliation with Jamaica, seeing the detailed stories of the victims made things even worse. But there are also many persons in Jamaica who, as we've found out over the past several months, really couldn't care less about the victims and would just as soon have them lose even more money as some insane brand of pseudo-reparation, apparently for crimes done to us by Americans.
This kind of reaction is troubling, but not at all surprising. It's typical of the way many of us look at things, isn't it? We're the victims of life's cruel manoeuvres, and any opportunity to even the score should be capitalised upon, no matter the effect on others.
We learned from local news reports that some people in St James and other places where lottery scam money was being spent freely felt that this was really a victimless crime.
Greedy and stupid
The feeling is that anyone silly enough to send away hundreds of thousands of dollars, in some cases their entire life savings, in the hope of getting an even bigger payout is simply greedy and stupid, and deserves to be parted with these funds forever.
I wonder if this theory applies to local investors in failed investment schemes, like Cash Plus. They, too, paid over hefty sums, hoping to get more money. Are they simpletons, too? Do they deserve to suffer? Should the schemes' administrators be allowed to go about their business, having done little more than relieve fools of their money?
It's alarming some of the things people believe are fair and just when there are benefits to be enjoyed. I remember watching the news after it was reported that a popular local DJ had bribed a US Embassy security official to get a visa. A reporter went around town getting views from people on the streets. Not one person questioned felt that the DJ had done anything wrong. They all agreed that he was just doing what was necessary and should be allowed to keep the visa.
Doing what's necessary, for many, includes making illegal connections to JPS power lines and setting up vending stalls wherever there's strong pedestrian or vehicular traffic. It's breaking the line at the bank and grabbing up goods from an overturned delivery truck. It's running a 'robot' taxi wherever the money is good and driving as fast and as recklessly as possible to ensure that maximum profit is made.
The irony is that we're a people who are quick to cry injustice whenever it's being done by 'others'. Who are they to burn our flag in a (pro-Jamaica) commercial? They should apologise! Politicians didn't declare their earnings? Fine them! But as soon as we start benefiting, well, that's all right.
I hope we can start to open our eyes a little wider and realise that the lottery scam has brought real pain to real people. Whether they were foolish to send their money away is a non-issue. It's a cruel crime and great effort should be put towards bringing it to a permanent end. There are no two ways about that.
Robert Lalah is associate editor - features and author of the Tuesday feature, 'Roving with Lalah'. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.