For Christmas this year, we received a number of gift cards. Almost all had been purchased at Safeways around the country, and all of them had been tampered with. All had already been used, all had been “scammed” in that someone had gone into the store, scanned the numbers on the cards, put them back into the envelopes so that once they were “activated” they were picked up immediately and put into someone else’s account. The amount of money lost in this way to us personally ended up being around $500. That was just in our own family. I wonder how many other people lost money in this way, and I wonder how much money others were able to obtain by “stealing” these gift cards in this way.
Then, after Christmas, we ordered some supplies from Walmart using a bonus card David had received from his work. (We don’t usually buy from Walmart, but again, this was a card we were given). This card was delivered digitally and so it “worked” for us in that we were able to order the supplies using the card to pay for them. However, we received a notification that they had been delivered to our house at a specific time, and they never were. The total spent was about $100. Fortunately, we now have REO cameras installed and we could see that no one had stolen anything from our porch: these items were simply not delivered, despite the company saying they were. My guess is that these were stolen by the delivery person, though it is possible that they were delivered to the wrong address. Either way, when we have packages wrongly delivered to us, we take them to the right address. The fact that this never happened makes it clear that someone took something that was not theirs at some point in the process of delivery. On another note, we tried to follow through with Walmart as well as the gift card companies. David spent probably 10 hours on this, but Walmart made it impossible to contact them or to file a complaint. We still tried, not that this will make any difference. Walmart is a billion-dollar company who does not care about the little amount we lost and will suffer no consequences for failing to make it right. (This is just one of the many reasons we don’t normally shop there!)
I have several thoughts about all of this. The first is that scammers and thieves seem to be more numerous than ever, at least in the United States, at this point in time. Why? Perhaps it is the general depression, anxiety and despair that so many are feeling that leads them to stop caring about morality or doing what’s right. Perhaps it is the rising hatred and anger that is also leading to these choices. Perhaps it is the huge increase in poverty that we are experiencing, the swallowing up of the middle class as the rich become richer and more greedy. Maybe it is that it is so easy to steal in these ways, and there is little consequence to doing so. It is difficult to find those who have stolen packages, and the police generally won’t waste their time on small thefts or small vandalisms, even as they add up. We know this because our church has had a number of thefts as well as vandalism lately and the police have admitted that they will not act until the amount stolen or the damage done in each instance is over $1000. Whatever the cause, if you plan to give gifts this year, I’d encourage you to think through how you choose to do that, considering ways your gifts might be scammed and perhaps choosing the old-fashioned route of purchasing the gift itself and delivering it directly to the recipients.
My second thought was to remind myself that while we “lost” a total of about $600, that all of it was from gifts, things we did not earn, things we did not save for, money that was not expected or needed. We have enough. We have always had enough. My own theology says that nothing we own is ours, anyway. All of it is lent to us by God to use for the good of all people. And while it is not ideal that it is scammers who took the money and the items we ordered, perhaps they are people who needed those resources. I don’t know, and I never will. The point is that this is something I need to let go of. The things we received that didn’t work and the things we didn’t receive were gifts. And it is the energy and care that went into the choosing of gifts and the giving of gifts that matters, not the receiving of more things that we don’t need anyway.
My final thought is that I feel like our lack of connection to others is also a huge part of the issue. We have forgotten that we belong to one another, that we are deeply connected, that we are all children of God and as such siblings to one another, and that what effects one of us, at some deep level effects all of us. The more that we can practice our connectionality and the more we can be kind to one another, even those who are very different from us, even those who we don’t necessarily agree with or like, the more we can change the world for the better. Also, it is harder to scam people when you have come to care about them. I am reminded that it is my job to get to know those people I don’t usually interact with, including delivery people and the shady people I might see in the grocery store. It is my job to get to know the unhoused persons who are damaging our church, to talk to them and find out their stories. It is my job to tear down the walls that protect me from others and to reach across them to make connections instead. This is our job as human beings. It might not make a difference today, it might not change the number of scammers who are out there tomorrow. But I have to believe that each effort for good that we choose matters in the world, and that all our efforts for good can add up, just as all the efforts that do damage have been adding up as of late. It has to start with me. It has to start with you. And it has to start today.