Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The story of a scam taking advantage of gullible Christians

Over the last few weeks, I was almost taken in by a scammer. The man used my belief in the truth of the gospel to attempt to convince me to give him money. It came very close to working.

I've seen it before. When I was at Bible college in Chicago I got used to having bums target the Christians kids who weren't yet aware that they stuck out like a sore thumb in the city streets. Many bums had perfected the art of taking of advantage of Christians who were eager to "share the gospel with the lost". They would come up and engage a kid in conversation. They didn't have to try too hard to steer the conversation to spiritual things - the students were all too eager to take it there themselves. When the bum showed excitement and interest to hear such life changing words, the student got excited and thought the Holy Spirit was working an that this was a divine encounter. The bum would follow wherever the student led the conversation, acting humble and repentant. They knew that at the end of the interchange the student would be thrilled and excited to help their new convert, and generally the bum would get a meal or cash out of the whole interchange.

Sad, isn't it? It doesn't help Christians or the gospel any good for us to be naive, but at the same time it does us no good to become hard-hearted and calloused.

A few weeks ago a man emailed the general info account of my Christian organization. He said that he found our website and was just learning about Christianity for the first time, and wanted to know more about our belief that Jesus is God. He said he was from the same country where my family lives overseas, and Isaac and I got to travel through the entire country at Christmas:

DSCF5912

Since I was just in his country, the inquiry was forwarded to me and I got to respond to the guy. We proceeded to go back and forth for weeks, and I loved it. He was asking intense questions about Christianity, and I loved explaining my beliefs to someone that knew nothing about Christianity. His awed response to the basic doctrines of Christianity was awesome - it was amazing to see how revolutionary the concept of grace and atonement are to someone that is longing for hope. The coolest thing was simply quoting the words of scripture and realizing how beautiful they were. This guy - we'll call him "N" - told me he would read them over and over again.

It was cool. Through the emails I asked questions and found out more about the guy. He was a Hindu minority in a Muslim country. He was married, has a wife and a child, and had a coworker that was a Christian that got him interested in finding out more. He told me he'd never seen a Bible before. I asked my dad to help me find a Christian contact in the city that N lived in, and I send that contact info to N so that he could continue his questions with a local church and get a Bible. N responded that he didn't want anyone in the city to know his name because he was very worried that his Hindu community would persecute him for looking into Christianity.

He also started telling me about his mother-in-law, who got sick and was taken to the hospital. She was in major pain and the doctor told their family that she needed surgery. They didn't have enough money to pay for the whole surgery, and needed about $130 USD to complete the bill so that she could have the surgery.

Well, you all know where this is going because you've read the title of the post. N never asked me for money, but he continued to present this financial need to me and to ask me to pray for their family and for his mother-in-law. I asked my dad for advise and he discouraged me from sending money to N since I didn't really know who he was and N wasn't responding to my continued encouragement to seek out local Christians to help him. Dad encouraged me to just tell N to pray for God's help.

I really... really struggled with that advise. How could I tell someone to pray for help if I could be the answer to that prayer? I felt like it was like telling someone dying of thirst to pray for water while I stood in front of them with a full glass. I felt very uneasy about the whole thing and I sent out requests to my friends that they pray for wisdom for me. The next morning as I looked at N's latest email, I was inspired to google his name.

Well, a whole host of websites popped up, but the most striking one was a website of a ministry in N's country warning people not to deal with him. They quoted an email from the head of a Christian organization saying that N used to work for them and was fired for embezzling money. Since then he has been playing the victim with local and international organizations and scamming them out of money.

WOW. I was floored, but honestly so thankful because it was very clear that my prayer for wisdom was answered.

When I confronted N over email, he said that the website was a smear campaign by people that weren't Christians themselves. I pointed out that regardless of whether or their claims were true, what was obvious was that he had had dealings with the Christian world and was NOT someone that was just looking into all of these things for the first time. N admitted that this was true but adamantly stated that all of his questions for me were real questions that he has been wrestling with, and that his story about his mother-in-law was true. He pointed out that he had never asked me for money. Since then N and I have continued to write back and forth talking about how there can be a good God in the midst of a suffering world.

Yesterday I talked to my dad again and told him what had transpired since our skype chat last week. Turns out that Dad actually KNOWS the guy that wrote the email that was quoted on the website about N. Dad emailed him to double-check the accuracy of the site and this morning I was sent his response. N has been doing this for years, and he has been confronted many times. He's an experienced scammer, and he knows exactly what a Christian wants to hear that will keep them engaged in conversation and tug on their heart.

Wow.

I am saddened that N is such a total fake.

I am angered that he lies and takes advantage of people who wish to act in love.

I am still convinced, though, that it is better to be taken advantage of for your compassion then to be unresponsive and hard-hearted.

However, I am reminded that wisdom is also highly valuable and that many, many people in the world are ready to take advantage of a naive Christian.

I am thankful that I was given wisdom when I needed it. I am thankful that I have contacts in country! I am thankful for my dad.

The irony of it is that N has no idea how small my world is... he has no idea that I have personal contacts in-country, that my siblings go to school with the children of his old boss, and that my father is personal friends with the man that fired him after he stole from their organization. I am glad that he is unable to continue his deceit with me!

5 comments:

Annie Peterson said...

Wow, that is crazy! Lord, change his life!

And, yes, I did make my header myself! I just used Picasa...it's super easy to pick some photos and make a collage. :)

Jaimie said...

Wow, I remember hearing about how you were so excited he was so receptive. Dang. That's just crazy.

The thing is, I wonder sometimes if we shouldn't give money to people like this anyway... if being scammed is such a horrible "sin" done to us. To say "I know you're lying to me and hurting me, but I'm going to help you anyway..." is more Christ-like than anything else.

Thoughts.

Jaimie said...

Didn't get a reply... :(

jon said...

In dealing with stuff that would normally excite us as Christians; sharing our faith and helping people (financially and materially), we have to be level headed also and not simply jump into conclusions to act. The irony is the faith we profess warrants us to act swiftly when we know there is a need. It is a shame that people such as N are hijacking the needs of the poor and making it hard for those who are in real dire situations to have to wait for us to act because we have to use discernment every step of the way.

I think it is a great challenge and one that we have to constantly proceed to do (helping people, sharing faith) but with wisdom and discernment.

Great post.

Togenberg said...

Be more like Ayn Rand. Don't give anybody anything. They are the mob, looters. Be your own person, stand tall and true, and ...

Oh I don't believe any of that. I can't stand Rand or her novels (I'll mock you for that in your book review).

I am glad that the truth outed the fella. Such gross behavior on his part. ack

And you DO have a relatively small world!

Troy