Truth has never been a given in human history. If we are being truly honest, all people lie about something at one time or another. Most lies are well intended. We do not want to involve others in our problems, so we respond to the question, “How are you doing?” with a “Fine,” even when we are not. Unfortunately, premeditated dishonesty has found valuable new tools with the advent of electronic communications.

Councilor Floyd Collins reported at our last Council meeting that he received a phone call from someone claiming to be a law enforcement official that a warrant had been issued for Floyd’s arrest for failing to report to federal jury duty. Many of us have received similar threatening calls for a variety of reasons, such as alleged mistakes on our tax returns. Floyd recognized the con for what it was, and we’ve all heard enough of these by now that we find some humor in them. We know, however, that these calls keep coming because someone is making money from them at the expense of innocent people.

Everyone is familiar with the snake oil salesmen of American history and the many different scams that have been employed to separate people from their money. According to Wiki Quotes, P.T. Barnum did not say, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” but a banker named David Hannum did when describing one of Barnum’s many hoaxes. The difference between the dishonesty of the past and that of the present is that today’s practitioners have much better tools that distribute their deceit to a much broader audience.

I have been guilty of thinking that people would have to be really gullible to fall for these schemes until I found that my wife had responded to a very convincing request from an e-mail that almost perfectly replicated correspondence from our bank by sending off our user ID and password. I was able to change both security settings almost instantly so our bank account wasn’t emptied, but these threats are increasingly sophisticated and convincing. I’ve had two debit cards replaced because someone locally swiped information from the magnetic strip and used it to manufacture fake cards that were then used in other states. My bank is now issuing debit cards with a chip to make it harder to steal information.

Despite the fact that dishonesty is all around us, I frequently need to remind myself that most people are basically honest and concerned about the welfare of others. If my optimism was unfounded, civilized society would not be possible and the many interpersonal transactions we successfully conduct every day would end. I refuse to live my life in fear of being cheated and will continue to believe in basic decency while keeping a close eye on my bank account.