Trust and helpfulness is a fine thing except when your good will is taken advantage of as it was in this case.
A family in Fall City, Washington let “Steven Davidson” live with them since he was a friend of their granddaughter. Not only was his name NOT Davidson, he had a criminal history for theft by deception, rape, and failing to register as a sex offender. And, he duped the family of southeast Asian decent into thinking their house was plagued by evil spirits so they would pay him to get rid of the problem! [Source]
The local news reports that Jason Charles Sumey was arrested in February for failing to register as a sex offender. While living at the Saeteurn house, court documents note that he conducted damaging activities to portray “strange happenings” which included faucets turning on by themselves, food coloring “splattered across carpets, walls and furniture.” He also damaged windows and vehicles.
As part of his scheme, Sumey started multiple fires on the lawn surrounding the home as a way to get rid of the evil spirits and promised his “uncle” exorcize the house, for a fee of course. The family paid Sumey $64,452 over the four months that this went on. The local law enforcement is quoted as saying Sumey “used deception in order to trick the family into believing something that he knew was not in fact true. What we believe he was doing was targeting vulnerable individuals and exploiting their belief system.”
This is another case where practical skepticism was sorely needed. Not only did the family trust that this houseguest was on the up and up, they believed he was a “good guy”. Their superstitious beliefs in ghosts and fear of evil spirits that were part of their worldview allowed them to be exploited by this fraudster.
This sort of stuff, sadly, happens everyday.
Ephren Taylor targeted African-American churchgoers with his investment scheme. His rags-to-riches story resonated with people of similar backgrounds and they put up their life savings in what was really just a Ponzi scheme where only Taylor made money. He was arrested on federal fraud charges. But the people who fell for this felt betrayed by someone they thought was part of their community and ethical framework and had their best interests in mind. [Source] See also “Investments guided by God” for another example of using a sense of community and religious belief to dupe the faithful.
A common street scam in major cities targets older Asian women making them believe their family is cursed. Often called the “blessings scam”, the victim is approached by a friendly person of similar descent who speaks their language and is clearly a part of the same culture. The scammers encourage the victim to join them in a visit to a great healer who could help them, too. The victims, feeling they are doing the right thing to protect their family and rid themselves of a curse causing misfortune, follow instructions and end up losing money and valuables in a bait and switch play. [Beware of the Blessings Scam] Once again, the feeling of trust is abused and leaves the victim embarrassed and poorer.
Finally, psychics can often manipulate people with life problems into feeding them a steady stream of cash in the mistaken idea that they are making things better. Self-proclaimed psychic Rose Marks duped older women out of millions as she concocted a story about their past lives and drew them into a fantasy world that helped them cope with difficult life problems. These women for desperate for comfort and advice. The Marks family were quick to take advantage of that, offering to help through supernatural means. Maybe it seemed that they were helping in the short term, but in the long term, it was a nasty way of reinforcing irrational beliefs and sucking away money based on false trust. See: The Marks psychic fraud trial.
There are thousands of similar stories like this every day. Emotionally and physically vulnerable people are taken advantage of because they are invested in a belief that is stronger than their sense of caution. It’s awfully easy to judge them from over here as “stupid” and “gullible” but that’s unfair. Everyone take a different path through life and no one has iron clad means of resisting tricks and fraud. As humans, we rely on our fellow human beings to act reasonably and to tell us the truth. Sometimes they don’t. If someone you know is possibly being duped by such scams, pass this piece along. Plant the seed that maybe they want to be a bit cautious and ask some questions. There is good reason to be skeptical.