Friday, November 5, 2010

Spell Check

Whether one is a native or foreigner in the Philippines there is no escaping the fact that the country is besieged by a high crime rate and that almost no one is totally safe from becoming a victim. Yet not all such criminal acts, especially robbery and other crimes of property necessarily involve physical violence. Instead, some perpetrators  prey on their targets via deceit and fraud.  Some gangs have become notorious via their "signature" modus operandi, and  their specialties may or may not include physical force.

While lone snatchers are common,  criminals often act in teams. One will distract the victim while the other picks his/her pocket or purse.  A more sophisticated operation involves phoning the residence of wealthy targets who the perps know are not at home but (as is common here) have domestic help on the premises. When a maid answers the phone,  the con-artist impersonates the homeowner (or someone claiming to be calling for him), and claims to have been in accident and for the domestic to gather and bring the target's money and even jewelry to a certain site such as a hospital.  The helper will likely be rattled by the call, and out of obedience to her employer, she acts as instructed.  When she arrives at the location, she is met by the criminals who claim to be acting in behalf of the accident victim and who convince the maid to turn over the valuables to them.  Of course they then promptly disappear.

But the most bizarre method that I've heard of by thieves here is the alleged utilization of hypnotism wherein the perps accost their victims and induce them into handing over their valuables including all the money in their bank account.  It sounds like an urban legend; yet even a few of my in-laws claim to have been victimized by the ruse.  And because these tales abound, the media takes such reported incidents seriously. Yet as I see it, just because a phenomenon is reportedly widespread but not scientifically verified, that makes it no more plausible than abduction by space aliens or an image of the Virgin Mary appearing in a mud splatter on a wall.

 In reality theft by hypnotism  may be just a case of the thieves using well honed powers of persuasion on their targets who then feel foolish when they realize that they've been had. So they block  the memory of their own consenting role and convince themselves that they were totally blameless in the event.

What is the profile of the criminal who commits this kind of crime?  According to my wife Lydia who is a professional psychologist, extreme narcissists and other sociopaths are especially adept in exploiting credulous people  through intense eye-contact, facial expressions, flattery, and appeals for sympathy   Further, since Philippine culture is permeated by belief in the supernatural including magic spells, incantations, spirits, shape-shifters, etc. many  people here (the majority?) even those with a formal education are gullible and hence easy prey for being overpowered by con-artists who not only use the foregoing forms of manipulation but  hocus-pocus and high-pressure tactics as well.    Speaking of flattery, uninitiated foreigners are also fair game for local crooks who turn on the charm and manage to weasel their way into the person's good graces.  So to that extent Filipinos aren't the only ones vulnerable to this form of "hypnotism".

The best way to prevent getting suckered in this manner is  to being careful about talking to strangers, which is not an easy caveat to follow in this gregarious society, and most people don't want to be rude to friendly overtures especially if one is in need of assistance. But in public places be especially alert to people who strike up conversations and get personal too quickly especially with compliments or invitations.

In the final analysis, it's up to everyone to stay on their toes and keep his/ her guard up against these slick operators. We can't really count on the undependable and thinly stretched law enforcement system here to do much about them.  Unlike being physically attacked or threatened, if we allow our vanity to cloud our judgment and we get duped as a result, then this is an instance where as victims we have only ourselves to blame.

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