Is It Legit?

Beware ‘professional ‘ beggars.

isitlegit

He who is generous will be blessed, For he gives some of his food to the poor. Proverbs 22:9

The United States of America is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, and  more charitable donations per capita flow from the US than from other nations.  As a country we are blessed with both the largest percentages of Christians and millionaires. These two groups donate more money to charities than any other according to numerous reports. Because of this abundance of wealth, there are numerous scam artists who prey upon the charity and good will of the generous by flipping the script to take advantage.

Earlier this year, you may have heard this heartwarming story in the national news media about this poor woman who was trying to make it home,  but her car broke down when it ran out of gas on I-95 outside of Philly. A homeless vet gave her $20, enabling her to get the much needed petrol for her car. In gratitude, her and her boyfriend befriended the man and set up an online GoFundMe donation account to help this wonderful homeless veteran. As the story went viral, donations poured in and the account grew to more than $400,000. A wonderful story.

gofundme-controversy

Except that’s all it was, a story. The entire account was a fiction, and all three parties were involved in the scam. The vet was indeed homeless, but the couple Mark D’Amico and Kate McClure, conspired with homeless man Johnny Bobbitt  and solicited his help as the face of their campaign. The plan backfired when the amounts received from good-hearted donors spiraled out of control. Greed over the size of the split of the ill-gotten gains is what ultimately undid the trio. Bobbit felt all the money belonged to him, as he was really homeless. Mastermind Mark D’Amico believed Bobbit was only entitled to a portion of the money, so Johnny Bobbitt got a lawyer and sued.  As a result of the legal action and the resulting media attention on the high-profile case, the elaborate plot unraveled and all three were jailed and charged with theft by deception. GoFundMe has agreed to refund the donations collected.  

jail

“There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”

The Naked City was a TV crime drama broadcast  from 1959-1963 and based on a 1948 film of the same name. Each episode ended with the iconic line about the eight million stories, a reference to the location, set in New York City, and implying that everyone has a story to tell. As I stated before, the USA is the land of plenty, and we do have homeless and poor, but no one staves in this country except by choice, or by malice. There has never been a famine our country, but there are many stupid people who make bad decisions and then want to blame others for their misfortune, or at least make them feel bad.  It reminds me of a biblical account of a famine in ancient Samaria found in the second book of Kings.  

2 Kings 6:26-30

26 As the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried to him, “Help me, my lord the king!”

27 The king replied, “If the Lord does not help you, where can I get help for you? From the threshing floor? From the winepress?” 28 Then he asked her, “What’s the matter?”

She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him today, and tomorrow we’ll eat my son.’ 29 So we cooked my son and ate him. The next day I said to her, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him,’ but she had hidden him.”

30 When the king heard the woman’s words, he tore his robes. As he went along the wall, the people looked, and they saw that, under his robes, he had sackcloth on his body.

That’s a pretty terrible tale, but it points out poor decision skills, taking advantage of both stupidity and of wealth, and while you feel sympathetic for the victims there are some people that just can’t be helped. It’s not totally clear exactly what type of help the woman is soliciting, but it is implied that she is seeking justice against the woman who scammed her.

Jesus said we will always have the poor among us. I’m not into the so-called ‘Prosperity Gospel’ which preaches that God wants us to be rich and successful, because by becoming wealthy we are in a much better position to help others.  There is some truth in this logic, but remember that even the Devil can quote scripture and twist it’s meaning to suit his purposes. There’s a scam out there for every legitimate cause, and they prey upon your sympathy.  A ‘church by mail’ called Saint Mathews Churches of Tulsa OK is one such scam that sends out mailings splattered with scriptures and religious iconography promising great blessings in return for ‘seed offerings’.  Some televangelists also fall into this category.

stmatt

Sometimes it’s hard to separate ‘the wheat from the chaff’. Sometimes it’s impossible, so don’t feel bad if you gave in error to a fake one. Live and learn, and move on.  Good people want to help others, and every organization needs SOME funding for its own overhead.  Some organizations are just ‘squeaky wheels’ that exist to cry for donations while little of the funds reach their intended targets.  I’m a firm believer in supporting LOCAL organizations. The best nation-wide charities like The Salvation Army  https://www.salvationarmyusa.org   or Toys For Tots   https://www.toysfortots.org  can get by on a minimal razor-thin operating budget and have LOCAL offices that cater to the LOCAL community. 

If you have any concerns about a charity, you can see how they rank up to similar charities by using the https://www.charitynavigator.org/  website. Charity Navigator is the largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities in the United States providing data on 1.8 million nonprofits.  

This doesn’t mean that every need has an accredited 501-c charity that exists to back it. Sometimes, legitimate needs do ‘pop-up’ unexpectedly, due to tragedy or stupidity, or both. Many of these hard luck cases turn to GoFundMe.com  There are many true needs out there that need to be met, but like the couple and the vet who scammed over  $400,000 some of these ‘needs’ might be fake. Whenever you donate money, never donate more than you can afford to, never feel bad if you have to say ‘no’, and never, ever, EVER donate money if you feel like you are being FORCED to give. Extortion is just as illegal as theft by deception. I have heard of people who used GoFundMe to raise funds for funerals, medical expenses, and because they lost their home in a fire. I once even donated money to a homeless Superman impersonator who had been mugged, had his teeth knocked out, and was robbed of his cape and super-suit. I have also heard of  people who used   GoFundME because they felt they were entitled to lots of money for their upcoming birthday, or who needed rent money because ‘they just didn’t have it’.  Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes people are just stupid and make bad decisions.  All things come from God and you are the steward  of the riches He has bestowed upon you. How you choose to distribute from your bounty is a matter of your heart, and only God can judge you because He knows the truth behind ever human heart. As always, I wish you success and happiness.  

At Face Value!

Even a penny is a treasure!

treasure

One of my earliest memories of my father involved him giving me a small metal treasure chest filled with old coins. In actuality, this was a just a metal coin bank, but unlike the usually piggy bank shape, this one was shaped like a stereotypical pirate chest one might see in an old movie, or in an illustration from a book on pirates. Although I was quite young at the time, I do remember three things about the incident.

The first thing was that my father originally told me a tall tale about finding the treasure chest buried in the yard by pirates. Not quite the right thing to say to a young impressionable boy with a vivid imagination. My first impulse was to grab a shovel and start trying to dig up the yard in search of more buried pirate booty. Upon realizing his mistake, retrieving the shovel and re-filling the holes in the back yard, my father confessed to making up the whimsical pirate story in jest to have a bit of fun at my expense. A kid will believe anything, they’re too young to know any better.

After a long explanation that pirates like Long John Silver and Blackbeard were not part of the modern world,  the second thing I remember was being delighted that the coins all looked different from contemporary money. I was old enough to know the difference between pennies, nickels, dimes, dimes, quarters, half-dollar, and dollar coins. A lot of the coins were from the 1800’s. This was my father’s coin collection, and he wanted me to have it to encourage an interest in both saving and collecting money. This is something which has stuck with me my whole life. A year or so later, my father died suddenly as a result of kidney failure.

The third thing I remember about the treasure chest of coins was that sometime after the death of first my father, and then my step father, my mother sold the coins to a dealer without my knowledge. It’s not like I looked at them every day, and we had to move quite a bit after she sold the house. Things ‘out of sight’ were always said to be ‘packed away in storage’ until I forgot about them. My mother only understood two things about money, she could spend it, and she never had as much as she’d like.

Bringing home the bacon.   

The origin of the piggy bank is disputed by different sources. Some say  that early coin jars in the middle ages were made of a type of clay called pygg. This word sounded like pig, and an English potter mistakenly created a pig-shaped bank when someone asked for a pygg money jar. There is little evidence to support this widely believed myth.  What is known is that sometime about 1900, the first modern Piggy Banks were sold in the USA, and they cost 25¢. Billed as a new novelty, these early clay banks didn’t have the removable stopper on the bottom of the bank. If you wanted to remove the coins, you had to smash the bank, or kill the pig, so to speak. Even to this day, whenever I empty my coin jar and take a bunch of wrapped coins to the bank, I say to the back teller that I killed the piggy bank.

I never quite understood the charm of a piggy bank, or of giving them to children to teach about saving. A coin jar works much better. It’s my humble opinion that parents who encouraged children to save money in piggy banks did so because young children have a nasty habit of putting everything they can grab into their mouth.  By making a game of putting the penny in the piggy bank, it helped keep the coins out of the mouths of babes. Of course, I may be mistaken, but that’s the nature of opinions.

The next time I became excited about coins and money was 1976, the USA bicentennial.  There was a lot of hoopla concerning our great nation reaching its second century. Tall ships sailed into NYC, there were extra fireworks around the 4th of July, a lot of patriotic symbols on all kinds of novelties could be had. And the money changed.  The  quarters, half-dollars, and dollar coins all had a special bicentennial obverse and a double date. Likewise, after a ten year absence, $2 bills were reintroduced with a bicentennial themed back depicting the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I had never seen a $2 bill. My mother was very excited. That was when I suddenly remembered about the long-unseen treasure chest of coins, which I then asked for, only to be told that that was ‘lost in the move’. As a consolation, I was given several specimens of all the new bicentennial money, including several $2 bills. I’ve had a love of $2 bills ever since.  I even have some Canadian $2 bills, both the obsolete paper money and the two loonie or toonie coin. Canada stopped printing $1 and $2 paper money back in 1986. Canadian dollar coins have a loon (a common Canadian waterfowl) on the obverse. They were nicknamed loonies. Some Canadians even started referring to piggy banks as loonie bins. In the late 1980’s Playtoy Industries of Toronto Canada manufactured a Giant Loonie Bank. Sadly, according to a recent news article, Canada says that currency which is no longer being printed will cease to be legal tender in the near future, and will become worthless paper.

looniebin2

This takes us back to collecting coins and money in general. For the most part, money is the one collectible item that always retains its face value.  The USA considers all US currency to be legal tender. If you take a 1937 ‘Mercury Dime’ to your bank, you can deposit it into your account as 10¢. Once a bank gets a hold of old money, it takes it out of circulation never to be seen again. If you took it to a coin collector instead, you’d get more than face value. The silver content alone is worth more than a dime.  To collectors, the condition of the money and its rarity give added value beyond that of the face value. I save all kinds of old money. Some of it is for sentimental reasons, like my $2 bills. Others like my Indian Head pennies are rare. Some coins I have paid slightly above face value to get an entire set in ‘uncirculated’ condition. To collectors, uncirculated coins and collector proof sets command high value. The US Mint sells these collector proof sets for way above face value. The 2018 proof set has ten coins all bearing the ‘S’ mint mark from San Francisco with a frosted, sculptured foreground set against a mirror-like field. You get the five America the Beautiful Quarters, the Native American $1 coin, Kennedy Half-dollar, Roosevelt dime, Jefferson nickel, and Lincoln penny.  Face value, it adds up to $2.91. The US Mint sells it for $27.95 +S/h.   To me, it’s not worth the extra $25.04 for super-shiny, uncirculated coins. Some people buy these  proof sets every year for their children and grandchildren.  I’m not saying that they won’t increase in value among collectors, just that they only are worth face value if you spend them.  I can’t tell you the exact number of times some teenager came in to the convenience store I worked at back in the day with a horde of old coins. In my mind, I just knew that someone had raided grandpa’s coin collection, but the money was legal tender, and I was simply speculating on how it was obtained.  I would buy out the rare monies once they left, replacing the antiquities with contemporary counterparts from my wallet.   

I’m probably never going to cash in my coin and paper money collection, but it is a comfort to know that if something terrible were to happen, I could at least spend it for face value even if I couldn’t locate another interested collector willing to obtain the collection for a premium.     

“Loose Change” AKA “Penny Song”

Lyrics by Andrew Peterson

I’d give you all of me to know what you were thinking

And if I had one wish I’d wish I wasn’t sinking here

Drowning in this well, oh can’t you tell?

I can’t pick myself up off the ground,

Well I’ve been face down and pushed aside.

Well you know I’d rather just turn tail and run

than lie here in the sun and watch you pass me by

Cause I ain’t worth a dime.

(yeah yeah, oh yeah) Yeah, yeah (yeah yeah)

But If only I could stand up straight, I wouldn’t have to lie and wait,

I could up and roll away, never be ignored

I’ve got a feeling that I’m something more

than just a piece of copper ore, turning green and looking for

The reason I was born.

I’ve been around since 1964, in banks and bottom drawers

And on railroad ties. I’ve been passed around and cast aside

Skipped and flipped and flattened wide, Spun around

And thrown away and left alone to lie

But If only I could stand up straight, I wouldn’t have to lie and wait,

I could up and roll away, never be ignored

I’ve got a feeling that I’m something more

than just a piece of copper ore, turning green and looking for

The reason I was born.

(yeah yeah, oh yeah) Yeah, yeah (yeah yeah) na na na na na

But I heard about a penny found, lying underneath the couch

By a woman who was kneeling down, looking for some change.

Then the woman danced around and called her friends all over town

Told them what was lost is found, it’s another penny saved.

And so I find that all this time beneath the surface I could shine

Like all the gold a king and queen could measure

You see even a penny is a treasure

(yeah yeah, oh yeah) Yeah, yeah (yeah yeah) na na na na na

The 1987 movie Throw Mama From The Train stars Danny DeVito  and Billy Chrystal as Owen and Larry. Middle-aged Owen lives at home with his overbearing mother. He seems like he might be a little slow.  Larry is his writing teacher at the adult continuing education program he attends. There’s a scene that is genuinely emotionally touching  when Owen wants to show Larry his coin collection. Larry doesn’t want to see the coins, but Owen makes him feel bad when he says he’s never shown them to anyone before.  Owen slowly pulls out coins saying “This one is a nickel. And this is one is also a nickel. And here’s a quarter, and another quarter, and a penny.” Larry is annoyed at this, as the coins are all seemingly contemporary currency, and not worth anything more than face value. Owen then proceeds to explain how each coin is special to him because they were the change his Dad gave him during various father-son trips.  It’s a collection of coins from change his dad gave him, and that’s where their value lies.

Although the original coin collection my father gave to me is long gone, the special memory of the gift remains. Like any successful person who faces a setback, I started over, and in time I slowly began to amass a new collection of coins.  As my financial situation improved, I started adding things like old paper money, silver certificates, foreign coins, uncirculated coins, you name it. At face value, my collection is worth thousands. To a collector, it’s worth even more. As far as I’m concerned, it’s priceless, and not for sale. Someday, I too hope to pass my collection to my son, when I finally have a  son. Hopefully he will be able to keep it longer than I did my father’s. In either case, you can’t take it with you when you go, and a good man provides for his children, and his children’s children. Money is nice to have, but the memories we make with our loved ones are worth more than all the gold in Fort Knox. As always, I wish you success and happiness!   

Gone Phishing?

Beware of Cyber Scams.

gone phishing

Back when I was a young boy and living with my aunt and uncle in Woodhaven, I remember this one day when my late uncle John got very excited because of a letter he received in the mail. It was from Publishers Clearing House informing him that he was in the top 5 to be entered in a drawing for $500,000! He happily showed the letter to my Aunt Arleen, who promptly grabbed it and proceeded to quickly tear it into little pieces. My uncle was devastated.   

It amused me greatly. At 13 years old, even I knew that the letter was a scam designed to entice ignorant people into subscribing to magazines in the hopes of winning that big cash prize. The one that some ‘lucky winner’ was guaranteed to receive. I could never fathom how some people could be so gullible as to fall for such things. Unfortunately the elderly are the ones who  fall for such scams quite often.

Not born yesterday.

You may have heard the sad tale of Richard Overton, the oldest man in America and a World War II vet who at 112 years old had his entire bank account drained by thieves who managed to use his social security number to gain access to his bank account in June 2018.

Newsflash! Your bank is NOT going to call YOU on the phone and ask YOU to verify YOUR information.  Even in the event that YOU call your financial institute for some reason or other, they only usually ask  for the last four digits and your date of birth if they ask at all. Yet time and again, people fall for such scams.  The number of scams that exist today is so extensive that entire books have been written on the subjects of cyber crimes, phishing, and identity theft.

You’ve got a friend in Nigeria!

One of the most well known internet scams involves receiving an e-mail from the relative of a member of a royal family who was murdered during a civil war somewhere in Africa. This person will cut you in for a percentage of their vast wealth IF you can help them recover their inheritance by sending them a little now money to help them accomplish this task.  Over six billion people live on this planet, and this person you’ve never heard of in a country you’ve never been to has sent you an e-mail asking for help? Does this make any sense at all? It’s hard to believe that people can be that stupid, yet for years that scam circulated from one e-mail account to another and  dumb people fell for it over and over.

Anyone e-mailing you asking for money, pretending to be in trouble, or informing you that you’ve won some fantastic prize or lottery and need to send a ‘processing fee’ is trying to scam you.  

How do you spell that again?

Another popular scam involved either misspelled website addresses, or using the wrong domain extension at the end of a web address to confuse people into visiting a bogus website and thinking it was legit.  Back in the early days of the internet, the default extension for a website domain was ‘.com’ but there were others, such as ‘.net’, ‘.org’ and ‘.gov’ which some people were unfamiliar with when the home computer boom took off in the early 1990’s. Scammers used to buy up domain names to create fake sites that seemed legit. One early fake site started in 1997 was whitehouse.com,  the real site is whitehouse.gov  with the extension .gov used by government agencies in the USA in place of the popular .com. The fake site used to redirect clueless victims to a porn site. Today whitehouse.com is an anti-Trump site,  protesting everything that’s good about the USA including our president.

Today there are over 1000 top-level domains (TLDs) for internet addresses, covering everything from ‘.abb’ to ‘.zw’.       

A popular trap that many people fell into was visiting these seemingly legitimate sites that were in no away affiliated with the real site.  Take the American post office for example. There are people looking for jobs, or  maybe there are people that have moved and want to change their mailing address. There are scam sites that pretend to be the United States Postal Service that are totally bogus and will charge exorbitant  fees for both of these simple procedures. The REAL website is http://www.USPS.com and they charge $1.05 to change your address. Employment and the required exam are BOTH FREE.

 Your computer is infected!

There’s nothing more alarming than having a pop-up window open telling you your computer is infected with a million viruses and that the ONLY way to fix this is to BUY this antivirus NOW from this site.  Malware and ransomware  will destroy your computer if you fall for this scam, and you’ll probably need to cancel your credit card if you were foolish enough to type it in and purchase this ‘cure’. I know of at least one former friend whose know-it-all teenage son fell for this.

Your mystery date is waiting.

I’m sorry, but from what I’ve seen internet dating sites are bad ideas to be avoided altogether whether they are scams or legit. Even the REAL sites are polluted with fake profiles, so why bother.  

In summary, there’s many ways to fool yourself into believing pie in the sky claims, but in the end pipe dreams are just that.   There’s an old adage, “if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.” You shouldn’t have to be reminded of this fact over and over again. As always, I wish you happiness and success!