When we read a story, we often paint it with our own emotional colors. If the narrative makes sense, we nod in agreement and move forward. I recently opened an email from the president of a professional organization that I belong to.
Some of the facts in the email fit the narrative I knew. These facts are that I had offered to help her if there was an urgent need and I knew she worked in hospice care.
The email asked me to go to Target or Walmart and order five gift cards as a donation to Veterans hospice service. It said she was out of town, could not use her phone and this needed to be done today. I grabbed my purse and rushed over to the store.
I walked up to a clerk at Target and asked how to get the cards. Her eyes widened. “This is likely a scam”. I felt taken aback until her tale began to poke holes in the email. She said, “Call her to confirm it is really her.” The clerk continued, “Scammers troll a person, scroll through all their emails and design a letter that has a high probability of working.” A manager came over to confirm this as a common practice saying, “Yesterday a man was sent here by his boss (he thought) in the same manner to get gift cards. We told him to check. He called his boss who said, ‘That is not from me.’”
I peered more closely and re-read the email in a new light. Things laden with emotion can pour down like honey and melt your heart, but they can also obscure your view. I felt for the veterans and was on a mission (I thought) to help. I was told to make the card readable for the Vets by scratching the silver peel slip to reveal claim codes, take photos of the codes, and send to an email address that sounded like the palliative care unit.
The Target clerk shook her head, “No. Never do that. They take the codes and put them on their own cards to steal your money.” I blinked and began to see the con, as my eyes cleared from the fog of lies. Then my heart filled with gratitude for the Target clerk for setting me straight. I drove home in a tizzy, glad I had dodged that bullet. But as I drove into the driveway, my anger rose at all the scam artists playing on the power of emotion to steal from people.
I did get a few gifts from this gift card escapade. First, I learned to never scratch off the peel slip and share claim codes. Next, I warned others about this type of thievery. It also made me reflect on the power of appealing to emotion, in order to get cooperation. In the political divide in USA society today, science and facts can be denied if they conflict with the more powerful emotional pull toward what one values. In my case, the emotional pull of doing a good deed for a colleague colored the truth and got me to see only the familiar and miss the fine print of evil-doing. I could thank the evil-doers for this “gift” but am too angry at them for manipulating me.