How many times have you heard someone talk about separating “the wheat from the chaff”? You’ve probably heard it all your life in everything from sports commentary to lines in movies. Be honest, would you know wheat from chaff if you saw it? What’s the difference?
You’ve heard of wheat. You’ve no doubt enjoyed the multitude of foods that come from wheat products. Bread, pizza, cookies, cakes, donuts, cereal, and an infinite list of more foods are possible because wheat is separated from chaff. Chaff is the husk of the seed. It’s the part that you don’t want because it’s inedible. This was well known in the Biblical age and because so many knew how to separate wheat by hand, it was a relatable reference. So much so that the reference is made multiple times through the Bible. One of those instances is in the book of Amos.
"Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end, saying, “When will the new moon be over that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat?" Amos 8:4-6 ESV
Some translations use “refuse” in place of chaff. You get the idea. It’s not the part of the wheat you want. The passage here mentions the dishonest practice of trying to sell the chaff. In other words, this would be selling someone a product they thought they could eat, when instead it’s something barely suitable for livestock. In fact, this whole passage gives a few examples of dishonest business practices. As you can probably guess, Amos gives guidance that dishonest business practices and scams are discouraged!
You’re probably nodding your head because, of course, dishonest business practices are something we should avoid. We also must acknowledge that this was an issue when this book of the Bible was written, and it still is as you read this. How do you avoid people trying to scam you? How do you know the wheat from the chaff?
Here’s some ways to avoid being scammed:
Urgency is your enemy
Scammers want to keep you from thinking too much about what they want you to do. One of the thief’s primary tactics is pushing you to do something quickly by creating a sense of urgency. Look out for threatening deadlines or dire consequences if you don’t act now. A common version of this is a phone call masquerading as an IRS agent. The phony “agent” will tell you this is your last chance to pay your overdue taxes, but if you provide a credit card you can avoid going to jail. Slowing down is your best tactic when presented with this type of fraud. Take a moment to catch your breath and think about what might be behind this urgency.
Beware authority or impostors
This technique tries to goad you into action with perceived identity of someone you think has your best interests in mind. A common version of this is an email impersonating a family member in peril. Another version is when a fraudster pretends to be from a company you do business with and is using that knowledge to get information or money out of you. Be skeptical about who you are dealing with.
Remember caller ID can be unreliable
Caller ID can be spoofed and sometimes lures people into a false sense of security. Don’t a trust a number or the name provided by caller ID. The best tactic here is to not ever believe caller ID.
Validate through reliable sources
When you are skeptical, take time to validate information with a reliable source. For example, if you are interacting with a new business, check to see if you’re dealing with a legitimate enterprise. This requires more than just a website for the business. Places to check can include your state Attorney General, the Better Business Bureau, or the Federal Trade Commission. Online reviews help sometimes but remember that anyone can fill these out. The best tactic here is to use only reliable sources when checking out another party.
When in doubt, seek help
Two heads are better than one. If you’re unsure, ask a family member of friends to think through your skepticism. Sometimes, this should be an expert. Don’t be afraid to get help because it requires you to seek someone who knows the subject. Many of us are hesitant to do this for fear of being embarrassed. Would you rather have a friendly conversation with someone on your side or be separated from your money by someone dishonest. The best tactic here is to seek counsel from someone else.
Be careful when money up front is required
There are legitimate cases when you do business and money is required up front for a product or service you want. Scammers know this and want to trade on the trust you extend to legitimate businesses. If all or a portion of needs to be paid up front, ask lots of questions. Look for a written statement or contract about what is being promised. We would all like to do business with just a handshake, but it’s not a good idea. Read the WHOLE contract or terms to ensure you understand what you’re getting yourself into and then keep a copy. The best tactic here is to “get it in writing.”
Don’t answer calls or texts requesting information
Scammers use phone calls and texts as ways to get information they can use to scam you. One form of this is a text asking you to verify the answer to security question to get more info. The scammer then uses your answer to get into an account like your bank and wreak havoc. Ignore the text and contact the company or person with a number you know to be legitimate. The best tactic here is to go directly to the source of the party asking for information.
If it seems too good to be true…
The last line of defense is your instinct. If something seems to good to be true, then it likely is. Is it more likely that you have an unknown uncle who was a Nigerian prince trying to send you money or that some dishonest person is trying to hoodwink you?
“Who is going to believe a con artist? Everyone, if she is good.” Andy Griffith
What are some other ways you stay safe from scams? How will you be vigilant to separate the wheat from the chaff?
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