Hey, let's be careful out there, scams everywhere

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

One of the sad realities of life these days is that our world is full of scam artists.

The Internet has brought them into our living rooms, into our offices and onto our phones.

They inhabit the sidewalks. Hotel lobbies. Ballparks, for crying out loud.

They prey upon our thirst for that life-changing, get-rich-quick moment. They abuse our sensibilities and compassionate upbringings. They exploit our good samaritan ideals.

And in the end, falling for their wicked ways can embarrass us mightily or steal us blind. Or even worse, trigger a terribly tragic ending like the one that befell Mary Whitaker last month when she opened her heart and her front door to a man in apparent need and ended up being fatally shot and stabbed for her kindheartedness.

Yes, the potential to be scammed is everywhere.

City Police Chief Tom Sutherlin likes to tell the story about being in line at the courtesy counter in Kroger when he overheard a store clerk trying to talk an elderly woman out of purchasing a money order for several thousand dollars. She wanted to send it off to what seemed painfully obvious to be nothing more than the purveyors of the popular Grandparent Scam.

Likewise, City Council President Adam Cohen admits to nearly caving in -- more than once, in fact -- to his conscience and giving "gas money" to an apparent unfortunate soul who confronted him at a local filling station.

The sad fact in all the above is this: Let your guard down even momentarily and you easily become a victim.

It can happen in Greencastle. It can happen in Cloverdale. Believe me, it can happen anywhere.

Even in Paris, the City of Light and romance and out-of-this-world taste treats.

I can testify to that because it nearly happened to me. On my birthday no less. On a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Paris (yes, France,

not Illinois).

On a sun-drenched July day, with the famed Arc de Triomphe literally just across the street from me, my attention and camera were focused on my lovely companion poised before the world's largest triumphal arch. Out of the blue, in between us and into my shot stepped a thirtysomething fellow who bent down and appeared to pick something up off the curb.

Still focused on my friend who had traffic swirling about her as we waited for the perfect posed shot in front of the iconic Paris monument, I barely realized the fellow had handed me a gold ring. Thinking my friend must have dropped it and our man on the street was politely returning it, I mindlessly stuck it on my ring finger and returned my attention to the photo-op in front of me.

Snapping a couple more shots, we starting walking away, retreating to the safety of the famed Champs Elysees when the fellow at my side started clamoring, "My ring! My ring!"

And I'm thinking, your ring? Then why did you hand it to me?

He's in my face now, inches and seconds away from an elbow to the head and an international incident for "Good Morning America" to tease. I could already hear the promo: "Indiana couple held in Paris landmark incident."

Sacre bleu!

Coming to our senses, we realize we had become the targets of a legendary scam.

Apparently sometimes the scammers point to that ring on the ground, get you to bend over and lift your wallet or pilfer your purse in the process. Or the scammer "finding" the ring offers it to you for 20 euros or so or offers to take half its value and let you sell it for the gold.

Of course, it's worthless, and you end up ripped off and too crazed to even crave a crepe.

The gold ring sting is a notorious street scam in Paris. Who knew?

No sooner had we been exposed to the scam, laughed it off and moved across the street to Avenue de Victor Hugo, then another fellow sidled up, producing a shiny gold ring between his thumb and index finger and thrusting it toward my face.

I immediately stuck my right hand up like an irritated traffic cop.

"No!" I remember hollering. "We just went through this two minutes ago."

No translation necessary. He took off.

Meanwhile, back at the "Grandparent Scam." The widespread hoax has reared its ugly head again, preying upon older victims as callers pretend to be a family member -- usually a grandson -- in some kind of trouble far from home.

Luckily, the Kroger clerk was suspicious, Chief Sutherlin said. Yet the veteran police officer still had to convince the woman the would-be distress call was not real.

"I told her, 'Ma'am, it's a scam,'" he related, "and you're never going to see your $2,000 again."

For Councilman Cohen, he admits being caught so off-guard at Cloverdale by a young man's story about taking his horse to Purdue for a medical issue and being stranded on the interstate that he actually started walking with the guy toward the nearest ATM.

But common sense prevailed before Cohen lightened his bank account, and he suggested, "Let's go see the horse."

The scammer bolted like a thoroughbred from the starting gate.

And the guy said, "'Awwww, forget it' and took off."

So scamming the scammers, maybe that's what we've all got to do.

Hey, I've got this ring I found ...