Monday, February 15, 2010

How Gullible are You?

After listening to endless stories of the Bernie Madoffs of this world, I've been pondering our gullibility. He bilked believers of more than $65 billion dollars, including many who should have spotted this Ponzi scheme.

Nearly three decades ago, I was standing in line in the grocery store. As a newlywed, I had compared prices and stretched our meager food budget to its limit. A well-meaning (but rude) shopper behind me delighted in pointing out my purchases and what she believed were the deficiencies in my diet. I retaliated by mentioning that standing on tile floors causes cancer. I have to admit I enjoyed watching her try make her feet contact the floor as little as possible.

Many years later, I recall trying to teach a group of teens at church not to accept things at face value. I told them we had a new directive to pray only while hopping up & down on one foot. Being good kids, they kept trying (it's hard to hop on one foot with your eyes closed) until I told them it was a lesson on confirming sources of information.

Several years ago my father called from California all excited about investing in oil wells in Texas, where I live. Spotting several red flags, including a limited time offer, I got him to hold off until I could investigate. The Better Business Bureau informed me the file they had forwarded to the State's Attorney was over an inch thick. That was all I needed to know.

Being well-educated, well-heeled, or well-informed was no protection. Even Morley Safer of 60 Minutes was bamboozled on camera (see for the video).

What are we to do? First of all, stop. Take a breath. Try not to let your emotions (especially greed) interfere with your decisions. Research your sources. If you're not sure where to start, call or visit the reference desk at your local library.

Most importantly, as the stories above reveal, double check everything. Especially if it comes from a prankster. Like me!