A disturbing trend appears to be gaining momentum, wherein individuals are driven to extreme measures in their pursuit of wealth, displaying little or no regard for the consequences of cheating or harming others. While scams and ponzi schemes have always been around, the alarming surge in such fraudulent activities, coupled with the audacity and the sheer arrogance of the perpetrators, is deeply unsettling. This trend transcends geographical boundaries; and whether it's within the corridors of financial institutions and corporate boardrooms or through the multitude of online swindlers, the underlying philosophy and the desire for quick and easy money remains unchanged.
My immediate motivation to write this article stems from recent incidents in Kerala, where all eyes are on a certain man* who has been pulling off for a long while, one of the most unbelievable scams possible. This person claims to be an antique collector and apparently has in his collection antique pieces like the staff of Moses, the first edition of the Holy Bible, some of the silver coins paid to Judas, the throne of Tipu Sultan and a version of the great epic Mahabharata written in palm leaves. According to police sources, most of the "rare antiques" were made by a carpenter in Kerala! After his arrest for fraud to the tune of many crores of rupees, what has surprised everyone is the kind of people that he seemed to have conned – popular film stars, famous politicians and high-ranking police officials, to name just a few. The fact that most of these people were sucked into the scam and believed his preposterous claims is astonishing.
We often come across cruder versions of such scamsters in our daily interactions – ready to prey on the unsuspecting and often vulnerable victims, to make them part with their hard-earned money through lies, extortion and scams. The only difference is that since such scams are on a personal, face-to-face level, the scale of the scam itself is generally much smaller and not as big as their internet counterparts.
I remember one such incident last year, where I almost became a victim myself.
We were on our way to attend a wedding in Kerala. I was driving - my wife, uncle, and a few other family members were also travelling with me to the church. We had just made a turn at a main junction and got on to a major road, when suddenly, a motorcycle roared up from behind, overtook our car, and abruptly stopped in front of us. I had no choice but to bring the car to a halt. An angry looking man got off the bike and approached me. I rolled down the window, only to be greeted with a barrage of shouting and verbal abuse. He claimed that our car had banged into his motorcycle at the junction. It was a completely baseless accusation. I was driving slowly, and no such incident had happened. However, he continued to raise his voice, and within moments a few others who looked to be his friends, began approaching the car. Very soon there was a small crowd around us. In Kerala, we have a strange law which asserts itself in such “accident” situations involving a crowd - the larger vehicle involved in an accident is almost always held responsible, regardless of what actually happened. In this case which involved a car and a motorcycle, I would inevitably be deemed at fault.
It became clear that they were trying to create a scene and extort money from me – they had probably seen the ladies in the car, dressed in their bright, colourful sarees, and rightly guessed that we were on our way for a wedding. They further guessed that we would most likely prefer to avoid a confrontation and quietly pay whatever settlement they demanded.
As their voices grew louder, I somehow managed to remain calm, speaking in a composed manner and denying any involvement in the alleged accident. It seemed that the motorcycle guy and his friends were now unsure how to escalate the situation since I maintained my composure and showed no inclination to put up a fight. It was then that my two sons, who were also going for the wedding in another car behind us, pulled up. Seeing them moving towards our car, along with a couple of their cousins, it became apparent immediately to the instigators that we were now not alone; they quickly retreated and disappeared.
I believe that if I had lost my temper or shown an inclination to fight, things would have taken a different turn, potentially resulting in significant financial loss and further trouble. Later, as we reached the wedding venue and shared the incident with others, we discovered that there had been a few similar cases in the area in recent weeks. It is deeply saddening to witness the direction in which our society is heading. Money has become easily attainable, and everyone wants to make it the easy way, without putting in the necessary hard work - the days of earning an honest living seem to be fading away. It is worrisome to imagine where we are headed to as a society.
We are indeed at a critical crossroads - our integrity, empathy and other age-old values are being put to the test. The path to easy money may seem enticing, but it is one that will surely lead us away from the core values that have sustained us throughout human history. We have a choice before us: to succumb to the allure of quick money or to honour the virtues that have defined us for ages.
We can do our part, pledging to preserve the integrity, dignity and the sanctity of honest, hard labour. For it is only by upholding these timeless principles that we can hope to restore balance to a world that is increasingly driven by unbridled greed, and hopefully forge a brighter future for ourselves and generations to come.
* Click here to read more about "Monson Mavunkal: Peddler of Lies and Antiques"