“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” These familiar words open Charles Dickens’ 1859 novel A Tale of Two Cities, but they apply to most any period of sudden upheaval and distress. The current COVID-19 pandemic certainly finds both the best and the worst playing out every day across the world.
On the plus side, we see nurses, doctors, first responders, truckers, grocery store stockers and thousands of other individuals in a host of occupations doing incredibly important work on the front lines. Among the rest of us, a million acts of kindness, generosity and grace are played out every minute in communities around the world; people embracing one another in a spirit of unity even as they keep their distance physically.
But there’s a darker side the crisis, too. Fear and panic are bringing out cadres of scammers, con artists and thieves whose activities stand in stark contrast to the stories of heroism. Consider for a moment just a few of the disturbing news items we’ve seen recently:
• In New Jersey, a doctor reports having to turn to the black market for desperately-needed medical supplies – and pay eight times the market price.
• In Iowa, senior citizens have reportedly been targeted by calls promising “free coronavirus testing kits” or threatening to suspend Social Security payments.
• In North Carolina, somebody stole a tractor trailer with 18,000 lbs. of toilet paper and other paper products; this at a time when store shelves have been stripped of such products.
In times like these, it’s easy to throw our hands up and say, “Well, that’s just some enterprising individual trying to make a buck.” Let’s stop right there: The crooks who perpetrate these frauds are not “enterprising” – they are venal, unprincipled criminals, pure and simple. They are like the virus itself, pernicious and hard to detect; and they are adding to the toll of misery and tragedy across the country and the world.
However like the virus, there are ways to guard yourself against this plague. Be extra cautious, take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones. Keep your distance, both physically and digitally.
Today is a perfect storm for these scammers and thieves. The Federal government is getting ready to pass out billions of dollars in stimulus money – easy bait – and to make matters worse, it’s April Fool’s.
So as we recall Dickens’ famous “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” opening line, we should read on and consider the words that follow: “It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”
Today of all days, let’s be wise.