D&C 11:11 warns: “Therefore, be ye as wise as serpents and yet without sin.”
The Lord is alerting us to the dangers of being naïve, gullible, and too trusting. “There’s a sucker born every minute.” (P.R. Barnum, 19th Century American showman.)
Sadly, not every enough Latter-day Saint follows this counsel.
For example, Utah has the reputation for being the “fraud capital of the country.” Utah investors have lost over $1.5 billion in the last ten years from Ponzi and other fraud schemes.
Latter-day Saints and their associates are the perpetrators of some of the largest fraud and Ponzi schemes in history. Sadly, Latter-day Saints and their associates are often the victims of these “get rich quick” scams.
Locally, the head of the Orange County District Attorney’s Fraud Unit once told me, “I could cut my staff in half if it weren’t for frauds committed by you Mormons!”
In fact, the largest Ponzi fraud scheme in Orange County history was perpetrated by a Latter-day Saint. He ripped off over $300 million dollars during a twenty-year Ponzi fraud scheme. He was ultimately sentenced to 30 years in prison. Most of his victims were LDS.
A Ponzi scheme is where early investors are paid, not by the returns from their investments, but by the investment money stolen from new investors. It is an illegal pyramid scheme.
Most of the investors were LDS. The early investors (“winners”) made excessive profits. The late investors (“losers”) lost everything. Tragically, many of these victims lost their retirement savings, and they had to try to find jobs in their elderly years.
To make matters worse, the LDS “losers,” and their lawyers, went after the LDS “winners,” in an effort to reclaim some of the “ill-gotten gains.” This created a lot of hostility between the members of the church that continues to this day.
Materialism is a root sin. It branches into sins of greed, envy, jealousy, theft, fraud, covetousness, and excessive debt. “The love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim 6:10)
The Lord has warned, “Seek not for riches” (D&C 11:7), for “riches will conquer your soul.” (D&C 56:16)
The Lord explained, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat.” (Gen 3:19) That is the Lord’s plan for us. “There is no easy way.” “There are no short cuts.”
There is a plethora of scams. Most current schemes involve phone or Internet sales or donation requests, tricks to obtain confidential information and steal identifies. Some of these fraudsters “impersonate” legitimate companies, government agencies, or charities.
Always remember, you don’t know the true identity of the person who contacted you via phone or Internet.
Be careful of “get rich quick” schemes. Don’t forget, “if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”
Use your common sense. Develop a healthy skepticism. This will go a long way in protecting you.
In short, “be a wise as serpents, and yet without sin.” (D&C 111:11)