God Squad Rabbi Marc Gellman

Rabbi Marc Gellman writes about religion for Newsday.

I just received the following email: “Greeting, I am Attorney and I contact you for a genuine business transaction which I want to entrust in your care. ... about my late client fund, (there) is nothing to worry about as everything is legal with documentations. Deposit valued ($8,500,000.00 United States).

(1) Can you handle this project?

(2) Can I give you this trust?

I expect your urgent response if you can handle this project.

Best Regard’s,

Please kindly reply to my alternative email address below.”

(Gellman note: email withheld because I do not want any of you to horn in on my windfall of $8.5 million).

Imagine my joy at receiving such good news.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

So let me talk right now — not to those who know that this is obviously a scam, which I hope is every single one of you. But let me talk to those who might think, even for a moment, “It might be real. Let me just respond to this guy and see if he really has $8,500,000 for me.”

I have some things to teach you. Here are three of those already-known-but-occasionally-forgotten things:

1. If it seems too good to be true, it is too good to be true.

2. There is no free lunch.

3. There is no shortcut to success.

You all know these three lessons and yet it remains true that many of us can fall prey to the desperate belief that what we know to be true about life is not always true. And do not believe for a moment that this crude email scam is only a danger to the uneducated and dimwitted. I have made many condolence phone calls to very savvy business people who were scammed out of millions of dollars.

Those who prey upon the gullible with emails like the above do not care if a million people delete their scam if just one person bites on it. Then the scammers are on their way to gaining access to your money and your life. One out of a million is good odds for them.

What leads people to go for this rubbish? What are they thinking? The Bible is our guide. We know that the scammers are violating one of the Ten Commandments (Thou shalt not steal), but what about the person who says to the scammer, “Great! Send me the money!”?

We must all realize that there is a dark side within each of us. That dark side is our greed that provokes violence and the willingness to believe a lie about life. It is true that our good side — our trusting nature — can also get us into trouble, but predominantly it is greed that sinks us. The problem is all those who prey on our greed.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

In Leviticus we are commanded, “Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shalt fear thy God: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:14). This means more than just playing a cruel trick on disabled people. It means do not use people’s weaknesses to exploit them. In the case of my primitive scammers, that means preying on people’s trust and greed, but it also means not offering a drink to a person you know has a problem with alcohol. It also means not taking a gambling-addicted friend to the racetrack. It might mean not flattering a vain person just to gain an advantage. There are many forms of blindness and many forms of stumbling blocks. Almost all forms of advertising violate the stumbling block law of Leviticus.

The mystery of the scammers is not why they would do it. They are corrupt thugs. The mystery is what is there in all of us that is vulnerable to the predations of people who are peddling the oddly believable lie that we can get something for nothing.