Scams and victims

Fields, a great comedian of the '30s and '40s, carefully recapitulated the true core of all confidence scams with the title of his 1939 film, You Can't Cheat an Honest Man. All confidence tricksters depend on the victim's own greed to hook him into the scam that cheats him out of his money. Maybe the most generally known today is the notorious “Nigerian scam,” also called the “419 fraud” for the section of the Nigerian criminal code it violates. The victim receives a letter, a fax or, most often today, an e-mail, stating that the sender possesses a hidden, usually illegal, hoard of money, and needs the help of an honest person to launder the money. The sender promises huge profits from this illicit partnership-and only needs your detailed bank account information to start sending the funds. You can guess what happens next.

In the past, most confidence scams go unreported, because the victims are too embarrassed to admit they have been taken by a story that, looked at impartially, is wildly unlikely. When the victim, or mark, does come forward, our sympathy is usually diluted by our laughter at the mark's foolishness. It's a socially satisfactory form of blaming the victim.

That's all well and good when the mark's greed is for money. But what about when the “greed” is for a spiritual goal like the aged pensioner scammed by a fluent televangelist? She wants only to do good and, at worst, increase her holy riches. Only the crassest observer laughs at these victims.

And-the point of today's column-what about the victims of immigration scams, where the mark is simply looking for a better life, in a better place? At the far end of the scale are the processes involving illegal immigrants, which often pose real risks to the life and health of the snakeheads' customers. Remember the two shiploads of people intercepted by the Coast Guard and briefly interned on Tinian over a decade ago? No one here was very concerned, in large part because most people resented the CNMI being used as a holding cell to keep the boats' passengers from applying for sanctuary once inside U.S. borders.

Today's column is not about this kind of aspirant immigrant. Rather, it is about the people we have been seeing more regularly, who have believed fables based on the idea that the CNMI-federal immigration transition provides a path to legal immigration. Some think that they are developing loopholes cleverly discovered by the confidence tricksters, and others just don't know U.S. immigration doesn't work the way they have been told. All have spent extensive sums of money, typically between $10,000 and $30,000, sometimes more. Except for some high-end “investors,” this money represents life savings plus everything they could borrow. All had hopes of legal immigration. All have been resentful, and many have inadvertently become illegal here.

2 Response to "Scams and victims"

  1. Klustter says:
    June 21, 2010 at 11:14 AM
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
  2. Myne Whitman says:
    June 21, 2010 at 9:13 PM

    I hope more people are being more careful nowadays.

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