One Every Minute

Nineteenth century American showman P.T. Barnum is usually credited as saying “there’s a sucker born every minute.” Certainly there’s a new one in India.

Barnum didn’t actually say the words attributed to him, but he was not averse to a bit of fakery in his exhibits. He knew people were happy to buy illusion, even if it conflicted with reality.

That willingness to believe gives an advantage to con men everywhere. Sometimes we accept things that we know intellectually are too good to be true, because we desperately want a little magic in our lives.

Which explains the story out of India earlier this month about the doctor and the genie.

We think of doctors as smart people. We trust them with our lives. But outside their specialty they can be as gullible as you and me.

If someone tried to sell you Aladdin’s lamp you would laugh it off. Especially with an asking price of $93,000 US dollars (7,000,000 rupees).

Everyone knows Aladdin was a fictional character. Maybe this doctor missed that, given that he was concentrating on his medical studies. \

Most of us don’t believe in the existence of genies – but what if the lamp’s owners had the genie appear to you? Would you see through the deception? Or would you be more inclined to buy the product?

We all think we are smarter than we really are (myself included). Every year there are reports of people getting conned out of their life savings by tricksters who know just how to make their appeal.

Sometimes people are outdone by their own greed. I suspect that might have been the doctor’s problem here. Imagine having a genie with the power to make your wishes come true! What would you ask for?

Sometimes though it is just our innate nature to trust people. If we are generally truthful, and most of us are, we expect others to be the same. Suspicion isn’t our default position.

So while the first impulse is to laugh and ask how this individual could have been so stupid, maybe the first impulse isn’t the right one.

Can you honestly say you have never been taken in by someone else’s statements? That you have seen through every scam that has ever come your way?

If you can, then you are free to laugh. If not, perhaps some sympathy is in order for a man who had the courage to go to police and report the crime.

My understanding is that many people who are bilked by scammers don’t report it to the authorities. They are embarrassed, ashamed, and don’t want the ridicule that is sure to come if the situation becomes public knowledge.

So they keep silent, and the scammers are free to try again with a new victim. The doctor wasn’t the first one to get taken in by the Aladdin’s lamp scheme. He was the first one to go to the police – which made him the last victim.

Is there a sucker born every minute? I don’t think so. Scammers might disagree though.

I’d rather live in a society where people were trusting and perhaps a bit naïve, allowing themselves sometimes to be taken advantage of, than a society where suspicion ruled.

How about you?

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