I opened my email this morning to find an urgent plea from one of our Metairie pastors. Immediately, all the bells went off. Something was not right.
The message began: “Hi, how are you doing today? I went on trip to London to attend a program for the support of those living with HIV/AIDS. I am very sorry I didn’t tell you about it til now. I really need your assistance because I’m stranded in London. You won’t believe I forgot my little bag in the taxi where my money, passport, documents, and other valuable things were kept….”
He needed $2500 to “settle my outstanding hotel bills, feed myself, and transport myself to the embassy to recover a temporary traveling paper back home.”
A temporary traveling paper? Was this written by someone unable to express himself? Certainly not by this pastor, the sharpest guy in the city.
I phoned Freddie Arnold and said, “You’re not going to believe this e-mail. Listen to this.” I’d not read two sentences when he said, “Ninfa (one of the secretaries in our office) got one just like it.”
It was a scam. Someone had stolen the internet address and mailing list from one of our finest and best-loved pastors in our association, and was emailing everyone, asking for money. Send the cash by Western Union, of course.
I heard the other day that with all the trillions of dollars flowing out of Washington into our troubled economy, Congress accepts the fact that a certain percentage will be lost to fraud. Billions of dollars of it, if you can believe that.
I find it so difficult to believe that right now people are sitting in their homes and offices scheming to lay their hands on portions of that cash.
But they are.
In this morning’s Times-Picayune, a front page article told of a young woman who worked the cash register at Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Restaurant on Decatur Street in the French Quarter. A couple approached her recently and enlisted her to hide a small duplicating machine nearby. When she processed credit cards, she was to make them a copy of the card’s information. Stupidly, she agreed. Twice over the next few weeks, the couple dropped by to pick up the slips she had waiting for them.
When customers began seeing strange charges on their credit card bills, they complained and the police were called in. Investigators learned that all had eaten at Bubba Gump’s recently. When they arrived to question the manager, the girl at the cash register all of a sudden had to run to the bathroom. That’s where police found the card duplicator, underneath the sink.
Yesterday, the judge ordered the young woman incarcerated and set the bail at over $1 million. He almost apologized for the amount, seeing as how she had received a grand total of $220 from the couple. There are something like 216 charges against her. She has never been arrested before, but now has more trouble than she’s ever known in her whole life.
Police are searching for the couple.
I find it amazing people like that couple exist, that they sit around concocting such plans and schemes to bilk people out of their income.
This morning a friend asked if I had ever heard of a particular ministry. I went to his website, which celebrates his ministry for the Lord in glowing terms, did not recognize him, and told my friend “no.” She said, “He bilked me out of over $4,000.”
I asked how that happened. I’ve edited her response and removed names.
“In February of last year, I called a certain piano store and spoke to that minister about a baby grand piano. He was charming and seemed so godly. I told him the piano was the only thing I missed from all our possessions which were lost in Hurricane Katrina. He wanted pictures, so I sent them. He published them on his website and asked for prayers for me.
“He persuaded me to take advantage of a discount for those who would pay the entire balance up front. I sent him my check for $4,300. Months went by and no piano. He gave plenty of excuses, though. Finally, when I asked for a refund, he said it would be overnighted to me. A week later, I received a letter from his attorney saying he had filed for bankruptcy. My own attorney said I could kiss that $4300 good-bye. My tax accountant said I could not claim that amount as a loss.”
That angers me, as no doubt it does you.
Bankruptcy happens; we know that. But misusing one’s relationship with Jesus Christ to manipulate people and steal their money is as sorry as they come. I keep thinking of the commandment where we are told, “The Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7)
As I approached the barber shop this morning just after 9 a.m., I found the door locked. A click inside and it opened. Darrell the barber said, “When I’m here alone, I keep the door locked.”
When I looked surprised — he’s a grown adult, fully able to defend himself — he said, “Joe, there are some bad people in this world. You have to keep your eyes wide open and your wits about you all the time.”
Eugene Peterson would never include my version of Romans 3:23 in a future edition of The Message, but to my mind that passage goes like this: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and given half a chance, will do so again.”
Mankind is in such desperate need of a Savior, to save him from his fellow man and sometimes from himself.
Thank God there’s One. His name is Jesus. He’s the only One there is.