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Ephesians 4:14 tells us that there will be those who by trickery and cunning craftiness will lie in wait to deceive us. So we have been warned. This passage also warns us that of we do not take heed and allow ourselves to be taken in we will be unstable and blown around and thrown about by every false doctrine that comes down the pike. It is sad to see it happening.

In an old three Stooges skit, Curley is on the witness stand in court and asked by the questioning attorney to speak clearly so the jury can understand him. His immediate response is, “Is everybody dumb?”. I want to thank my friend and colleague, Professor Wave Nunnaley for calling my attention to that humorous episode. The question seems pertinent for today, “Is everybody dumb?”

We as humans are not dumb and in fact have built-in fraud detectors but so often with so many the detectors are broken, disabled or simply mal-functioning. So many scammers seem to be able to get around our fraud detectors and our need to be skeptical about over the top claims. We need to try and understand how this happens. It can happen to you.

One thing we need to be aware of is the real power of written (and then mailed) appeals. So many Tel Evangelists and self- proclaimed healers and “apostles” use the mail as a tried and true scientifically studied way of enormous money gathering. The official looking correspondence is said to come right from “the man” himself. There is even a computer gendered “personal” signature. This can totally disarm our fraud detection devices. We tend to give credibility to letters believing they have some kind of real authority as does other mail from government organizations or doctor’s offices. After all the “healer” or “apostle” professes to have an inside track with God and possesses great spiritual powers and insights. He (or she) is not of this world – not a mere mortal. The return envelope beckons and may be addressed directly to “Mr. Big” himself though in reality it will be opened and emptied by a minimum wage employee or perhaps a non-paid volunteer. All these tactics and tricks are cunningly designed to get around our fraud detectors. Remember Ephesians calls the deceivers tricky.

Many of those letters we receive will be chock full of promises of one hundred fold returns or better yet one thousand fold returns. Frankly the expectation of getting (money, healing or whatever in return) triggers in many simple greed. There is no denying this or white washing it. Any little amount we send back is overshadowed by the enormity of the claimed return. The cunningly devised fable has worked; secular con men call this telling the tale. We become the mark and swallow the tall tale in one gulp. It is a spiritual lottery that we always lose even if we believe we win. Once greed kicks in we are finished. Discernment is dulled. Our scam detectors are silenced and greed is the lever used by the taker. All the letter writing is a form of theatre staged with heavy illusion. The Herman Melville 1857 novel, The Confidence Man: His Masquerade, carries a timely and pertinent title.

In an article in the Haaretz News from Israel (2/15/12) titled, I think, Therefore I Scam , Jacob Burak reports that researchers sent out 10,000 fraudulent appeal letters that would trigger the greed in its recipients. They automatically and correctly predicted the 10-20% that would respond.

We know very well that cults isolate people,sometime physically but most often by controlling information and that the isolation has an intended purpose. It is always to dismantle their fraud detection. People with limited information or a controlled information flow are more prone to deception and control. They are more vulnerable to hoaxes and skewing of reality. It is simply because reality that is true reality can only be formed in a large social network. Social connections of friends and family help us create a true understanding of life and self. That is why the Book of Proverbs encourages counsel and more than once speaks of safety in a multitude of counselors, (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22).

The internet has compounded the problem as it can help isolate certain personalities especially those who feed on cult or conspiratorial types of information. Their “counselors” consist of a restricted and restricting information flow. This is a sure route to a disarmed fraud detector

Jacob Borak, though a secular writer agrees with David Maurer, author of the book, The Big Con, when he says “You can’t cheat an honest man,” (in Haaretz article mentioned above). Honest people are not greedy and therefore very hard to fool. “Is everybody dumb?” Well, not everybody but quite a few and all of us are open to some form of deception. Perhaps now we can understand a bit more as to why.