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To Catch a Thief, Think Like a Thief

Posted by on Nov 9, 2010 in Business Management | 43 comments

The phone rings in the office at around 10 in the morning and my secretary answers it. It was from a priest, a Monsignor in fact looking for me. I wasn’t around at the time so my secretary asks for his number and purpose of the call. She got the number but the priest didn’t leave any specific reason, just that he wanted to talk to me urgently.

As I arrived in the office later, my secretary informs me of the call and asks if I want her to call the Monsignor back. Of course the natural reaction of anybody when a priest wants to talk to you would be to return their call as soon as possible. (Maybe he wanted to bless me, who knows right?) So I quickly make it a priority to talk to the man of the cloth.

So as the phone was handed over to me, things quickly began to unravel.

“Hello… father?”

“Maaark! (as if he knew me for a long time), how are you? This is Father something-something (I’m leaving the name out as I will explain some more on this later)”

“Yes Father, how can I help you?”

“Well you see Mark, I’m currently involved in community work for some military and police people, you see they have several good projects for their community and they are in need of some financial help…(a deliberate pause)”

“Yes Father, go on…”

“Okay, now I’m selling a few tickets for P5,000 each for an event that will happen on this date, can you purchase a few from me to help their cause?”

Now if this was the younger, naive and inexperienced version of me, I would have answered this way:

“Okay father can you give me some more details for this event? I can probably buy one ticket to help your cause, where and how can I give you my contribution?”

And I would bet that a lot (not all, but a lot) of people who talk to this priest would most likely say the same thing or some version of it if they had the money. Why? Because the mere mention of him being a priest would make most God fearing people instantly want to help the request of a holy man.

But you see, because I’m a little older now a little more experienced I don’t quite buy it just yet. So instead of rushing into giving a total stranger my hard earned money, I ask a few hard and straight to the point questions.

“Ah okay father, by the way what’s your name again? (then he repeats his full name), Okay father, just a quick question before anything else (he says sure!) — is it normal practice for priests to call people soliciting money for tickets?”

“(Pause)… (He was quite obviously surprised to get this question from me)… Uhm…No…it’s not… which is why I’m a little embarrassed to be calling you like this”

Honestly, he would have had a slightly better chance if he answered this way: “Actually my son, yes, when times are tough, even priests have to do what they can to help others.”

But he didn’t. Now at this point, I remember recognizing his voice from somewhere before but could not place it until now, then it dawned on me that he had called me a year or two ago, I remember his distinct voice pretending to be the head of customs and at that time selling me “smuggled” Johnny Walker for P5,000 per bottle.

So I continued asking a few more questions, but this time a little more direct as the plot became a little clearer:

“Okay father, I have to be honest, I do not know you, and I hope you understand that I do not just give my money to strangers. Also, how did you get this number?”

“Well, Mark, yes you are right, I understand what you are saying, I don’t know you, but my name is Monsignor something-something, you can actually look me up on the internet and a retired General gave me your number”

Now, when he said “you can look me up on the internet” this should have been good enough, but in my mind, anyone on the phone can get the identity of someone already established and claim that that is him / her so I just said.

“Okay thanks Father, but I will have to pass.”

“Really, hindi mo talaga ako matutulungan?”

“Sorry Father, I have helped many people in my own way and through various means, and I still do so until today but I will have to decline politely. Thanks for calling anyway.”

And the phone went dead.

Okay so the reason why I decided to write about and publish this particular incident of my life is to teach you 3 important lessons from it so that you avoid being scammed.

1.)   Do not be intimidated or be awed by titles or designations or positions of people over the phone. You always need proof of the person’s identity especially if it’s just by phone. Now offering of proof on the internet will not be good enough as I mentioned, you need social proof, who knows him/her that you know too? what does that mutual person say about him/her?

2.)   Remember this saying: “To catch a thief, you must think like a thief”. Although this is pretty self-explanatory, most of the time we tend to play a role in the scene that the other person sets up.  In the example above, the person paints the picture that he is a Monsignor, so normally people opposite that person will play the role of the good Catholic constituent. Etc.

3.)   And lastly, if you work hard to make money for you and your family. You must also work hard in protecting that money from people who will constantly try to take that money from you and your family.

Remember, being generous is a good character trait to have, but we must also be prudent and smart.

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Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. benjoe

    right you are mark… you’ve hit the nail right on the head…

  2. Jay Castillo

    Hi Mark, I can totally relate to your story. In my case it was a retired general who called me up last week, asking my help by supporting a fund raising dinner which also costs Php5,000 per ticket.

    I used the “higher authority” gambit where I said my wife would get mad if I just gave money like that without asking her. After awhile he texted me asking if I can just buy 1 ticket and so I asked this general to send me invitations to the event which I can show to my wife (which I can also verify with the military directly).

    He no longer replied and I never got a copy of the invitation.

  3. Eunice

    Very informative. A lot of people will use any means, even the name of God, just to earn a quick buck but on the other hand, would it have been different if he was just asking 100 or 500 Pesos for the cause? Kasi in my case naman, here were several instances where I am not sure if it was a scam of not:

    Case 1: Someone knocking at our gate was asking 100 Pesos for tickets for the deaf and blind. He was neither deaf nor blind nor someone I knew from the neighborhod. Perhaps he was just desperate to call on someone for help I presumed so I told him to go to the barangay have his letter validated so he can really go house to house within the subdivision and return to me. He did not return back.

    Case 2: In another instance, it was a text asking me for any amount of money and I never knew the man although he was apparently from my online group. Anyway, I was not “urged” to give so did not reply back.

    Case 3: Several acquiantances (not close friends) whom I know and feel naman that they were sincere when they asked me for a donation or some financial help. I felt the “urge” to help. So I did.

    Case 4: We were on a tour, eating lunch when several street children came up to us asking for money. Not food but money. Remembering the tour guide who told us not to give to chidren because they are being used by criminal elements to give them money. We chose not to give. Looking back, I think we should have given them food instead of what they were asking for.

    My bottomline in giving away money is that it should be something na “maluwag sa puso” or you are urged by your conscience to give. There are a looooot of people needing help but be selective, give whatver you can afford to give (monetary or otherwise) and give out of love (a heart to help) NOT because you were compelled to give. Even if you have been scammed before, be wise next time but still…. continue to give. Do not sink the ship because of the rats. Because in life, there will always be “rats” around….

    Thanks for sharing Mark! God speed!


  4. Lem

    “To catch a thief, you must think like a thief” — nice one. Oh well its the time of the year again

  5. Jerem De Leon

    I had experienced same attempt of scamming too (same style)!! but of course those won’t do for us.. 😉 You should have asked how will he get your money and you will be amazed how priests can accept through remittance and not in person… hehe.. btw, I need 5k as well.. hope you can donate some too.. haha!

    • markso

      He he he. So do a lot of people. Thanks for writing in.

      • Albert


        I had similar experience, but as you have said, think like a criminal. Sometime last August, i acquired an office fit out and having our furniture reconfigured and everything, then suddenly these two men approached us and giving us tickets “for a good cause” scenario which they said came from a General in the AFP or something. I told them frankly that i will pass this time.

  6. Homer Almodiente

    thank you for sharing us this experience. few years ago, i have the same experience, a military man from called me up asking to sponsors a ticket worth 5,000 per ticket. i dont know him or how did he get my landline. He even insisted they will pick up the payment & as well delliver the invitation. i decline the offer, for that time i had financial problems with the bussiness…

  7. Raquel

    Thanks Mr. Mark for sharing the story with us. You’re right we must not get intimidated with the position of the person, it’s a lesson we must learn. I hope u continue to send us ur story we learn a lot from u. Take care and God Bless!

  8. Winziph

    thanks for sharing your story, that was definitely just almost the same with what i had experience recently but by this time they are telling me that i have a free insurance from them and when i ask where they get my name and number they told that i was been referred and since i have not applied for anything related to them i ignore them saying i am not interested.

  9. Glo

    I wonder if my hubby is already a subscriber of your site…. These are exactly the same things he told me…to be smart and on guard whenever a person will ask to buy tickets for a cause or subscribe in a money making scheme… 🙂

  10. Noli

    Greetings! Read this a third time but since it is coming from your new impressive website, I just had to read it again. I still like re-reading it.

    I like the part of you saying… “Politely decline.” I also use this line when a persistent but truly hard-working fellow approaches me to sell or market his merchandise. It is much better said in this manner than just plainly “No”. And, I am for “protecting your hard-earned money for your family”.

    Thanks Mark. God bless.

  11. CJ

    I’ve seen this so many times before, I have just decided to be generous to the Church directly and not to people on the street, malls, etc….at least I know where it goes.

  12. patty

    thanks for sharing….. I will share this with my family…. 🙂

  13. tes di

    truly, we should not get intimidated by “titles’ easily, dapat relax lang, take time to analyze the situation objectively…if these scammers will be sucessful the first time, there is no doubt they will strike for the second, 3rd, nth time and so on.. you are now on their list

  14. Robert Rafson Chua

    nice one mark, i have a lot of those people calling me and i have learned how to handle them but only after a few got the better of me… thanks for the information.

  15. jojie

    I’m glad I’d read your blog, I got another knowledge on those scammers. Keep it up!

    By the way, how about those who goes house to house asking for donation because of fire or flood?

  16. Clarence Sotlar

    I merely wanted to thank you once more for the amazing web site you have created here. It truly is full of useful tips for those who are definitely interested in this subject, particularly this very post. You really are all actually sweet plus thoughtful of others in addition to the fact that reading the blog posts is a wonderful delight with me. And exactly what a generous surprise! Jeff and I will have excitement making use of your recommendations in what we should instead do next week. Our checklist is a mile long which means your tips will be put to good use.

  17. Grace Lee

    there are really a lot of scammers in the world!!! nice insight!!! 😀

  18. Dexter

    The fun runs being organized every week – left and right are legitimate ‘scammers’. A very, very small percentage of the 500php that you paid goes to the charities or foundations that they publish in their marketing materials. I know a few people who jumped into this ‘business’.

    If we have the capacity and desire to help, go direct.

  19. Arnold

    Sadly, a lot of our countrymen fall for different kinds of scams. I pray that there will be more people like you who will genuinely care to educate people to become faithful stewards of their finances.

    God bless!

  20. Ruel A.

    There are people/individual which we Filipino tagged it “abusado”. No effort, they get money in fraudulent way. No avoid to be trapped in this kind of people, use our brain, think first before we act. Thank you sir for sharing your experience.

  21. Ruel A.

    There are certain people/individual which we Filipino tagged as “abusado”. This people wants to have money in easy way, or to be specific in fraudulent manner. Using influential names, God words, etc. to encourage innocent people to believe in them. Thank you sir for sharing your experience. It helps us to be more aware the moment we experience the same thing.

  22. Kris

    Very good article. This has made me realize a lot of things. I have been a victim of the same though not by people posing as clergy… but protecting hard-earned money from others (relatives) who try to take it away from me. Thanks for showing me a way to decline such

  23. buddy oberas

    Thanks Mark for giving me an idea of a good script of polite but right-into-your-face (ear) refusal , considering that indeed there are many of those types of phone turn-off calls. Mabuhay ka!

  24. Grace

    It’s very informative. I used to intimidate scammers on my phone.. 🙂

  25. Gilbert Z. Apostol

    There are a lot of people taking advantage of other people’s generosity and kindness. Its a valuable lesson to really validate people asking money. Sad to think that other people got the nerve to even use religion or charity to get money from other people. It’s good to give but we have to be selective and smart where or whom to give our hard-earned money.

  26. Jobilee-May S. Rubio

    Very informative☺good way of refusing☺

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