The other day I read an article in Utah Business about fraud in Utah. The article starts out discussing Val Southwick “the Bernie Madoff of Utah” and his sentencing for “the biggest fraud scheme in Utah history” stating that Utahns still haven’t learned their lesson – that there are still a growing number of white collar crimes, namely affinity fraud.
In “State of Fraud: Why is Utah Rife with Fraudulent Investment Schemes?” Gaylen Webb uses the argument that “In Utah, we tend to know who are neighbors are…[there is] a lot of inherent trust… it makes Utah a great place to live but also makes us vulnerable to this type of activity.”
What is affinity fraud? It’s when you are taken advantage of someone you know and have a relationship with. The article is of course centered on investment fraud but it really got me thinking about other ways that we can fall victim to affinity fraud.
But first, I just have to share this because it is so incredibly absurd and I think will help flesh out the rest of what I want to discuss:
“Woodell (Utah Division of Securities Director) describes one con artist who defrauded a woman in his Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) Church congregation by saying that he had come from the LDS temple, that he had been very blessed in his life and that he had prayed about what he should be doing now. “He told her, point blank, he had received revelation that his mission in life now was to help people like her with their finances. Essentially, he said, ‘I have been sent by God to help you.’ That’s a powerful argument. If you feel like this is a good person, and you share the same faith, you can understand why that kind of strategy sometimes succeeds. They guy ended up just flat out stealing her money.”
You can read the whole article here.
So back to what I was saying about the other ways we fall victim to affinity fraud. Just allow me this one other tangent. I promise it will all come together in a minute.
I’ve spoken very little on this blog about how messed up my life was growing up. I try to keep things pretty upbeat around here and that stuff was all so long ago that I don’t feel that it matters all that much. Except that it does matter – how I was treated as a kid, how incredibly low my self-esteem was, how uncomfortable I felt in my own skin – those memories, experiences and lessons have all made me the person that I am today; for better and sometimes for worse. The better and the worse part of it is better left for another post (no pun intended).
Here’s the short story: I grew up in private Christian school and I hated every moment of it. I hated that because my parents were divorced I was some sort of black sheep in the tribe. Which was really just odd considering that I wasn’t the only one with divorced parents – we were all equally shunned but dealt with it in different ways I guess. Because of my parents’ divorce, whenever I acted out in class – questioning things, doubting authority – I just got sent to therapy because I had anger issues over my parents’ divorce. I was super skinny and uncomfortable for all the normal reasons people feel uncomfortable in middle school and junior high – but being sent out of a class to go see a psychologist because I’d questioned the teacher was a really great way to help me feel normal. Yeah, that’s sarcasm, in case you were in any way confused.
I hated the school. I hated the kids I went to school with (for the most part…I did manage to have some friends) but overall I just couldn’t wait to get out of that hell hole (ironic since it was in a church) and get out into the real world and meet real people.
I’ve mentioned before about my memory of being told that I’d end up “knocked up and alone.” I was told lots of really great things by those folks prancing around and calling themselves Christians teachers.
And here’s where I get to the point: Those hurtful things were all affinity fraud.
“Affinity fraud is analogous to child abuse: a person in a position of trust victimizes another individual who has trusted them in good faith.” (also from the above article)
People close to me, people who had a relationship with me, they sold me on the idea that I wasn’t good enough. Wasn’t pretty. Was too skinny. Wasn’t talented in anything. That no one would love me. They sold me on lots of ideas. And they flat out robbed me.
They robbed me of opportunities I didn’t think I was capable of going after. They robbed me of a lot of happiness in my adolescent years. They robbed me of my own self-worth.
“We Con Ourselves”
In the article, Gaylen states that “the good con artists help us con ourselves.” And I think that is incredibly true with the hurts that I have had as well. Certainly, those people said horrible things, but how I let it affect me and how I have carried that weight on my shoulders has been my own doing. Certainly, I am a stronger person now – but those past emotions still creep up on me from time to time, still leave me feeling anxious about others opinions of me, nervous around new people, always on the mission to impress people. But I am growing; I have grown. And I know now that these feelings are just me conning myself; robbing myself.
And I realize that this post really doesn’t go along with the whole “I try to keep things pretty upbeat” but this is real life and it’s important to me. And yes, those moments were long ago but I have to wonder if they still go on for someone else, maybe even for me and maybe sometimes we are our own “affinity con-artists” selling ourselves on ideas that end up robbing us from what life really had to offer. Anytime we’re told that we can’t, or that we aren’t good enough, or that we don’t deserve something – those are the words of a con artist. Whether the artist knows it or not.
Who are you listening to? Are you investing in yourself or are you being conned into something less?