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“If it is too good to be true it probably isn't.”

Photocredit Karolina GrabowskafromPexels

When I was young, our aunty Millie (Lal J’s mother) got caught to a trickster. A salesman brought pure bee’s honey at an unbelievably cheap price. When she questioned its purity, he said, “taste it, you won’t regret it” and poured some honey on her palm. It was exquisite – like very high-quality bee’s honey. She then insisted on buying the same bottle of honey she tasted from. She was convinced she had a bargain! She was in for a surprise - she had consumed about 10% of this honey, when she found it difficult to pour out of the bottle! But the bottle was heavy and “full”. This man had poured boiling water into the bottle then added wax on top of this (floating on the hot water but solidifying when cooled!). Then pure honey was poured on top! What lessons are to be learnt? Firstly, our “greed” for a bargain! Secondly, suspicion of the salesman because of previous experience! Thirdly, the trickster knows and understands our thinking! He will allay fears by smooth talk, getting you to taste it, and that taste overcomes all suspicion. In our desire for a bargain we overlook the fact that we have no control over the situation!

In the second example, a childhood friend Jayantha Marambe who was visiting his parents was looking for a video-player. He found a man with a recorder in a partially opened box who beckoned him to a lonely corner and showed an “original” box containing a recorder with intact polythene-blister packing. He said it “had fallen from the back of a truck” and was going cheap. He bought it and took it home - to find a block of concrete inside! In another incident, my friend Ranil de Silva, was offered an i-Pad in China that appeared stolen. It was however working. Ranil offered 50$ despite the quoted price of 100! The tout refused and grabbed the iPad back. Ranil kept the 50$ note in his hand! The guy suddenly changed his mind, gave Ranil the iPad, grabbed the 50 $ and disappeared. In the bag was a ‘dummy’ iPad ! The lesson: greed does not pay; The illegality of the situation and the originality of the packing in both instances allayed anxieties!

Thirdly, I was seeing patients at Central Hospital Galle, when I heard a person shouting outside. He was looking for Prof. Neil Fonseka. I phoned him without success. Then he wished to contact Dr. Walter Tissera who was also out. It appeared to be an emergency, and he ‘reluctantly’ told me some Maldivians in a ship in the Galle harbour had expensive watches for sale! Although this was probably illegal, my greed overrode any scruples I may have had. I asked him whether I could have those watches? He said yes! He said the Maldivians don’t want money but wanted cloves in payment. He told me that he was the son of a very rich gem merchant, who disowned him for marrying a Sinhalese! I stopped the car to buy the cloves and he said, “why don’t you stay in the car, I will buy it” and took 600 Rs from me. That’s the last I saw him. It was my greed that put me in trouble! He was a maestro - not offering me directly (but looking for two absent colleagues) and pretending to be a reluctant dealer. An element of illegality was also present! I was put off guard by him not discussing money at all. He also built credibility – “friends” of the absent specialists and the son of a well-known rich man! He played on my sympathy since he was a pauper disowned by his father.

Fourthly, I had finished consultations and was getting into my car to beat the curfew, when a man leaned on my shutter and spoke to me. He was crying. He said, “I cannot face my wife unless I take ‘Lactogen’ for my child”. He wanted 35/=. I drove him home with me. He was a navy officer on leave. I gave him 12 tins of SMA – then, we were ‘bribed’ by milk food companies! He then said, “the curfew is on and I don’t have money to get a 3-wheeler”. I took him to his home. 2 days later at a similar time I saw Sarath de Silva (Lakshmi’s husband) being accosted by the same man ! OMG this guy was leaning against Sarath’s shutter! When he saw me, he ran off! The security guy said that he was a druggie! What are the lessons here? Absolute sympathy at difficult times - a hungry child and a distressed wife. The Navy story was for credibility.

I am sure many of us have fallen victim to scams! But remember to analyse the reason! Often Greed and maybe sympathy! Don’t get caught, don’t become a scammer! At our age try not to be too greedy!

Harendra De Silva


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