Friday, 4 September 2009

Mormons, Evangelicals And Affinity Fraud

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Web site defines an “affinity fraud”:

“Affinity fraud refers to investment scams that prey upon members of identifiable groups, such as religious or ethnic communities, the elderly, or professional groups. The fraudsters who promote affinity scams frequently are — or pretend to be — members of the group. They often enlist respected community or religious leaders from within the group to spread the word about the scheme, by convincing those people that a fraudulent investment is legitimate and worthwhile. Many times, those leaders become unwitting victims of the fraudster’s ruse.”

You don’t have to be a believer of any kind to fall prey to affinity fraud but if you are a person who is daily looking for the “leading of God”,  who believes that God is bound to have a hand in the minutiae of your every day life, that there is no such thing as a coincidence and that God is “wanting to bless you” as part of his great plan then you  are a prime target for fraudsters.

You will have heard of Bernard Madoff who targeted those who shared his Jewish heritage, rubbing shoulders with significant and trusted members of the Jewish community, to create the biggest fraud of its kind in history. Now a $50 million affinity fraud that took in Mormons and Evangelical Christians has come to light.

Nightly conference calls included prayer and fellowship. This wasn’t just a business but a spiritual mission.

“It was almost like a cult,” one Mormon victim said. “There were prayers at the end of most of the calls. That element was key. There was a real sense of camaraderie, a sense of community, and everything we were going to do involved humanitarian efforts to change the world. That’s why you felt like you didn’t dare disrupt it. God’s behind us, and you shouldn’t betray him.”

Retirement accounts were raided to “invest” and friends and relatives were recruited. It was a classic example of the triumph of faith over reason. A cautionary tale for our time.

How do believers guard themselves from these fraudsters?

Firstly, Remember Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn.18:36) and come the day of judgement whatever we build on a foundation of gold, sliver etc. will be burned up and some will be saved “only as through fire” (1 Co.3:11-15)

Secondly, Because we are believers doesn’t mean the usual rules of life don’t apply. It is easy to delude ourselves into thinking that a Christian’s life is somehow meant to be charmed. We see it on bumper stickers that declare “Angels jump off at 70mph” and in the popularity of testimonies telling of miraculous provision. Believers can spend an inordinate amount of time worrying why God is not blessing them in a particular way as though the faith is one great get rich, stay slim, and prosper scheme. The ensuing guilt and worry does Satan’s work for him as we become ineffectual  in our preoccupation with ourselves when we should be concerned for others. Of course God blesses us and in so many ways but Christians are subject to the same ills and fortunes as everyone else so remember:

  • If it looks too good to be true then it almost certainly is.
  • A business deal is always a business deal and should be approached as such. Believers shouldn’t approach it as a heaven-sent provision anymore than unbelievers should approach it as simply a bit of good luck.
  • There are no friends in business and Christians should heed the same advice as everyone else, caveat emptor, buyer beware.
  • “Prayer covering” is not an insurance against fraud, being alert, well well advised and cautious is. The people in this story simply trusted that this was genuine even though the amount of Gold that was supposed to be being traded amounted to twice the quantity in the US Federal Reserve!
  • If a decision just has to be made today then the best decision is usually “no”. I never made a decision that couldn’t wait 24 hours.

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