Recently I received this email: “I am former Mrs. Abibat Said, a widow to the late Alhaji Mahi Said. I am 72 years old, suffering from a long time bout with cancer. My late husband was very wealthy but he died during the Gulf war as well as my only son. I inherited all his business and wealth. I have now decided to divide part of this wealth by contributing to the development of philanthropism in Africa, America and Asia. I selected your organization to receive $10 Million dollars. Please immediately get in touch with my physician and business manager to file for the transfer. I await your urgent reply.”
“You will receive ten million dollars?” Wow! This seems astonishing until you hear the rest of the story. People responding to the request are told to simply divulge their bank account number and a huge deposit will soon follow. What actually occurs is a huge withdrawal — of every dollar in your account.
This is commonly known as the “Nigerian Email Scam” named after the country where it originated. I still receive one or two of these letters every week. Authorities estimate victims have lost billions. Fortunately, I was never one of those.
Not so fortunately, I became casualty to another internet scam. Four years ago, an order came over the Sowing Seeds Ministry website for 175 copies of one of my books with a credit card order for the books, shipping and a donation to our ministry. The address was a remote area of Africa so. I was suspicious especially because the order was so large. Why would anyone in Africa want so many copies of this particular book? Yet the entire order and over $1,000 of shipping charges was approved.
Still suspicious, I called my local banker and asked his advice. “Do you have the money?” he asked.
I did. “Then ship it and don’t worry,” he said.
Oops! My banker was wrong. When you use a charge card in a store and sign a receipt, the credit card company guarantees payment to the merchant even when fraud is involved. But since there is no signature when buying products over the internet there are few guarantees given to seller.
Days later, I received a phone call from the fraud division of the credit card company informing me that the order was processed with a stolen credit card. Within days, all the money was withdrawn from my business account. Our little ministry was successfully scammed out of thousands of dollars and 175 copies of my book are now somewhere in Africa.
When describing the first email scam, I felt smart and astute but succumbing to the lures of the second scam made me feel vulnerable, embarrassed and angry. “How could I be so stupid? Why didn’t I act on my suspicions? Why would someone want to harm our ministry?”
During this same period of time, I was preparing a sermon series about Leaders of the Old Testament. I read the story of Jacob and his twin brother Esau in Genesis. Jacob was the second twin and he is said to have been holding tightly to Esau’s heel during birth. The name Jacob means, “grabber” or “deceiver.” I discovered that Jacob was a Biblical con artist and his main mark was his brother Esau.
Jacob grabbed and deceived to get everything he wanted out of life. He grabbed his brother’s birthright with what I call, “The World’s Most Expensive Stew.” He stole Esau’s blessing and honor by disguising himself in front of their father. Caught in his deceit, Jacob did what comes natural for any con artist — he ran away. For years he stayed with his Uncle Laban yet another con artist in the family.
After being deceived and scammed, I’m beginning to understand how Jacob’s brother, Esau felt. But after years of living with Laban we find Jacob wants to pack up his family and return home. All his life, Jacob had been running but now the con-artist was coming home to face Esau, his family and God.
Next: In one of the most unusual encounters in the Bible, Jacob, the con-artist faces the music and learns a valuable lesson from God about confession and forgiveness.