Small World: Confession of a con-victim


Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

All the world, it seems to me, is made up of conmen (or conwomen, as you will learn) and their victims. I suspect that those taken advantage of form the larger number. Pretty clearly, I fall into that latter category — or perhaps the verb should be I have grown up into victimhood. Let me explain.

I was raised in the Lutheran religion. Martin Luther taught us, as I learned in catechetical class, that we are all shaped by original sin. Man is born bad. Nothing to be done about it. Only faith will see you through to salvation. In the meantime, it is prudent not to trust anyone. The inheritance from this affliction at birth is an abiding deep-seated suspicion of others.

After a heavy dose of that doctrine, I turned liberal, a faith in which everyone is deemed good (if only they had the benefit of a decent education and a bit of public subsidy). Until conditions change or facts point to a different approach, it is proper to trust everyone. Suspicion plus trust equals confusion.

The liberal element of my background chimed with my geographic origin and acculturation. Gallantry and good manners were the governing behaviors down South. If we were all polite to one another, few problems would spoil our day.

I believe you begin to sense the shadow of victimhood darkening this tale.

But, there is more. I have reached senior citizen status. That means an erosion of previously strong will, a confusion of tactical approaches and a weakening of memory. Worse, it means an abiding insecurity, which finds expression in avarice.

I became, as you will grasp, ripe, low-hanging fruit ready for the picking.

The telephone rings on Friday morning. It is a woman, who announces that, as my subscription to the Economist magazine will soon expire and as I have committed myself in writing two months ago to renew it, she wants to complete the transaction. The charge will be $175, but she needs the complete credit card number beginning with “4” which she somehow lacks. I say I don’t want to renew; she says I am obliged to. She reduces the charge — “I have the authority” — to $150. A deal, she says. Reluctantly, I give her the desired number — from a Visa debit card I rarely use and almost certainly did not for a magazine subscription.

A while later she calls again. The debit card doesn’t work. The price is reduced to $119.95. Now, we’re talking. I give her the numbers from my customarily used MasterCard.

Then for a couple of hours, I brood and reflect. I call the Economist magazine. No, they have no record of an order for renewal of my subscription, which will expire in April. No, they don’t offer an annual renewal fee in the amount of $119.95. I check on my list of MasterCard charges. Nothing from the Economist is shown. Instead, there is a charge of $119.95 to be paid to Super Promotions (let us call them), supposedly a bookstore in Florida. I call MasterCard. Jack says nothing can be done until the charge is “posted” (no longer pending) next week. He gives me the number of the listed bookstore. I call. They are closed on Fridays, a recorded announcement says.

I spend the weekend deep in remorse and self-vilification. If only I had just rudely hung up. If only I hadn’t been so greedy and seized on a so-called cut-rate fee. (A bit later, I see an advertisement for an annual subscription to the magazine at $64.99, down from $119 down from $178.50.) What a fool or aged, gallant, Southern Lutheran liberal I was/am.

It all ends happily, it would appear. Jack and MasterCard restore the $119.95 and the two compromised cards are canceled and reissued.

The mystery conwoman calls later on Monday to reproach me and announce that she will pursue vindication and revenge with MasterCard. She has everything on tape. I hang up.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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