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Empathy And Compassion Can Coexist With Discernment And Skepticism

   Mar 12, 2022

Join host Bob Sullivan (AARP The Perfect Scam Podcast), CharityWatch Executive Director, Laurie Styron, and others as they discuss charity fraud and the need to balance our empathy and compassion with skepticism and discernment in our giving decisions. 

[00:23:35] Bob: Laurie Styron operates Charity Watch, an independent organization that helps people avoid scams when they're donating their money. "Real estate scams are unfortunately pretty common," she says, "and criminals often know just who to target." 

Laurie Styron: Well it's a tale as old as time, isn't it? A wolf in sheep's clothing. It's a universal truth, sadly, but predatory people, they target not other predatory people, but they target high empathy and compassionate people, and they do it by appealing to our higher selves, appealing to that drive that we have to help others, to be our brother's keepers. So that's really something that we all have to be very vigilant about if you are someone who has high empathy and compassion for others. You have to really be on extra guard about people like this, predatory people like this really exploiting those great qualities about yourself that drive you to help other people.  

Bob: Why are empathetic people targeted?  

Laurie Styron: Well, there are people who make decisions, you know, very fact-based decisions. You know you have your accountants of the world, right, and then you have the people who follow their intuition, and they really make decisions based on their emotions and their personal connections to other people that they feel, um, and their connection to humanity that they feel. And, you know, it's great when we all have that feeling and that connection to humanity that causes us, that drives us to want to help others. But when it comes time to making hard decisions where you’re having to sign on the dotted line, a legal document, you need to not sort of stamp out those great qualities that you have for compassion and empathy, but you do need to temporarily set those aside so that you can really analyze in a very fact-based way what it is specifically that you're promising, and what you're getting yourself into.  

Bob: Why are veterans' causes so commonly used this way?  

Laurie Styron: One reason for that, well, it's, it's a two for one for scammers. Because a scammer can play on your empathy, um, but they can also play on your patriotism. So, this is why we see this a lot with veterans' causes is it's a very evocative type of cause because we think about you know these are people who sacrifice for our country, in some cases they come home from battle with a lot of broken bodies and, and broken souls and, you know, mental health issues in many cases. And so it really can tug at the heart strings and also play on our patriotism. So, veterans' causes in particular, that's an area where people do have to be extra cautious. 

Bob: It's maddening that kind and empathetic people are targeted, but Laurie says, you don't have to give up on kindness and empathy just because criminals try to exploit these qualities.  

Laurie Styron: We think about these things in a binary way. So I would never ask someone that has a lot of compassion or empathy to turn off those great qualities about themselves, but you know, these two things, being discerning and skeptical, and being high empathy and compassionate, they are not mutually exclusive. And so, our compassion can be unlimited, but our resources are not. So we need to be discerning because if we want to make a positive impact in the world and accomplish something with our generosity, it really requires both things. It requires that feeling of empathy and compassion, and it also requires us to have a very discerning and skeptical eye.  

Bob: Our compassion can be unlimited, but our resources are not. I like that a lot.  

Bob: And even when being generous, Laurie says, don't take any shortcuts.  

Bob: If someone might say, hey, can we just put some of these uh small, converted truck trailers onto your property and we can house veterans on them, isn't that a lovely idea, and it can maybe be a good idea even. But understanding the legal implications of that, the tax implications, none of us, that's not my skill, that's not your skill, so make sure you hire a professional to go through the annoying steps because those are designed for a reason, right?  

Laurie Styron: Exactly. Those are designed for a reason, and to make sure that your generosity makes a positive impact in the world, you need to go through the proper steps. If someone approaches you with what sounds like a great idea for a charitable cause or some other way that you can help other people, and you think it sounds great and that it’s a great idea, you just to go through those proper steps so that you can weed out fraudsters and scammers. So if you receive some kind of a contract like this, you just need to seek out the help of an attorney, for example. Or if you get a charity solicitation in the mail, it’s the same thing. You need to not respond to pressure or time pressure, or you know attempts at guilting you into donating right away. You need to take the information down and do your research before you commit to making a donation. And so this is just really good general advice for everything, is that if someone has a great idea, just put it through that vetting process.  

Bob: Yeah, don't skip any steps. I like that a lot.  


Bob: Janet's life is slowly returning to normal, but the hurt she feels from having her property taken away from her, that lingers on.  

Janet Grosz: Being abused, trust is broken, I feel like I was totally uh taken advantage of. You know, when I try to help this guy, feed him three meals a day, get him clothes, get him a cell phone, you know, drive him everywhere, uh be like a family to him, I did so much for this guy and then totally taken advantage of me, you feel totally betrayed, you know. Totally.  

Bob: Betrayed, that sounds like the word, betrayed. And plus, you were obviously, this was just your generous heart here that he was taking advantage of.  

Janet Grosz: Yes, on top of it, you have to pay so much money, attorneys to get my property back. That was unreal. For being kindness of my heart, now I have to turn around and pay almost 15 thousand to two attorneys to get my property back. That is unreal. 

Bob: Janet agreed to talk to us because she just doesn't want anyone else to go through what she's gone through.  

Janet Grosz: Well, I'm just trusting God from learning from this experience. I'm just doing this to help other seniors, so please, don't trust everybody. You could trust, but verify. Uh, make sure you're doing the right thing. And also get an attorney before you do any legal action of any property or when it comes to finances or personal items. Don't trust everybody who comes out to be, pretending to be doing something for another person, humanity. You know, trust but verify.  


Bob: If you have been targeted by a scam or fraud, you are not alone. Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. Their trained fraud specialists can provide you with free support and guidance on what to do next. Thank you to our team of scambusters; Executive Producer, Julie Getz; Researcher, Haley Nelson; Associate Producer, Annalea Embree; and of course, our Audio Engineer, Julio Gonzalez. Be sure to find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. For AARP's The Perfect Scam, I'm Bob Sullivan.