Sympathy Scams And How To Avoid Them


 We've all seen the emails. 'There's a sick kid in Randomville, USA who needs your help. X charity will donate for every person who forwards this email'. 'Send money to X Person or X Political Group to solve all their problems.'  

I don't doubt that these are real problems for some people. However, there are several ways that a person can scam others by playing on their sympathies. They know that people-particularly children and teens-will trust people they meet online enough to want to help. Young people haven't yet developed the cynicism I show above, so they are in particular danger of being scammed. Since I've had experience with this, I thought it merited its own post.

Scammers are people who will play on the good natures of others for their own gain, be it financial or 'just for fun.' For instance, one Christian forum I frequent had a visitor who appeared to be going through a really rough time...her marriage was failing, she was seriously ill but couldn't afford the treatment because she lost her job, was about to lose her house etc. Basically, her life was one tragedy after another. People began to listen, call her (some internationally), send her money, etc...all things a good community would do. Problem is, none of it was true. There was no illness. There was no foreclosure, no job loss, no looming threat of homelessness...nothing. It was all fake, costing several people money and energy they didn't have to give. What makes it worse is that some of the people who contributed were emotionally fragile and/or sick themselves, so the deception hit them even harder.

Unfortunately, this story isn't all that uncommon. The internet has a way of getting people-particularly children and teens-to 'suspend' their normal disbelief and be taken in. I myself was once the target of such a deception, although I didn't send any money. It was someone claiming to be an HIV-positive teenager whose life was basically a train wreck, just like the one above. I think we can liken the willingness to believe such stories to the 'big lie' theory I learned about in history class. It says that if you want to convince someone of a falsehood, don't tell a small lie. No, make up a huge, involved story because a) such tales often confuse people, and b) many people will assume that a story with that many details has to be true because we don't expect to hear such involved tales outside of a novel. Have you ever heard the phrase, 'you couldn't make this stuff up'? That's the case here.

I guess what I'm trying to get at is that it helps to be aware of scams like this to make sure you or your teens won't be taken in. I'm not saying not to reach out and help people, but be cautious before you send any money. I know this seems like common sense, but you'd be surprised. Even if they don't ask for money, though, scammers can elicit emotional distress that no one wants to see in their child. Overall, trust your gut.
Here's another interesting article on the subject-

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