It's amazing how much we take on trust...

I've just been shafted by a client to the tune of £7200. I'm trying to work out if I've been an idiotic chump or if the 'shaftee' was just a magnificent con merchant.  More than that, I think (information is still unfolding to be absolutely sure), I've witnessed criminal behaviour, and I've certainly seen conduct that has seriously breached a professional code of conduct.

The thing is, I worked with this client for over two and half years. I had all the necessary safeguards in place: terms of engagement in writing, signed agreement of my terms and conditions, and of course a two and a half year track record. He wasn't always the promptest payer. I had to chase and nag quite often, but it always came right in the end. But never in all that time did I have any inkling that fraud, deception and all manner of skullduggery was going on behind the scenes.

Still reeling about how I managed to be conned for so long, my husband Darren - who is always insightful about human nature - pointed out that it's in our nature to trust. We live our lives by a certain code of conduct and automatically assume that those around us share those values. In addition, there certain professions, those my Mother would call 'professional people' that our society looks up to: doctors, lawyers, accountants, clergy etc. Our default position is to trust people in those sectors until we are faced with evidence to the contrary.

Think about it. Maybe that's how recent TV entertainers have managed to get away with sexual abuse for so many years. They were in a position of automatically assumed trust.

  • We trust that food served to us in a restaurant or purchased in a supermarket will not poison us.
  • We trust that goods purchased online will reach us.
  • We trust builders, electricians, and other trades people we hardly know to be alone in our homes when we have to be at work.
  • We trust that teachers will take care of our children during the school day.
  • We pay for goods and services in advance trusting that people will do what they say they will.

I'm not saying this is wrong; it's just that when those people we trusted let us down, the shock is all the greater. And of course this is what the con-merchant banks on. They don't have to be cleverer than us - they just need to tap into our natural inclination to trust.

I got conned because I trusted. Will this make me more suspicious of people in the future? Maybe a little. But then if you take away our natural inclination to trust entirely, what kind of world would we be left with?

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