This happened sometime back, when I was heading one of the city branches in Bangalore. One fine day a bearded man wearing khadi Kurta (traditional Indian attire) and jeans (not so traditional!) walked into my cabin. He spoke crisp English and his demeanor was enthralling. He confessed that he is in the process of relocating from Mumbai to Bangalore and wanted to invest around Rs 7 crore in my bank. The money is the insurance amount which he got on his wife’s untimely demise. I explained the formalities for opening the account and gave him the requisite forms to be filled up. He left happily. The next day he turned up again with more queries about the interest rates and during the casual conversation which we had, he enquired about my whereabouts. After that I didn’t see him for the next 7 days. Then one morning he dropped by and told me that he has got good connections with certain government departments and can help me mobilize funds from them for our branch. I then prepared communiqués to the directors of the departments which he proclaimed, highlighting our deposit rates and the kind of personalized service that iam willing to provide. He volunteered to take the letters personally to the directors to ensure that we get the funds. But I said I would prefer to courier it since it’s an official document. He was visibly upset and left in a hurry stating that he will give his visiting card to be clipped along with the letters to guarantee the desired end result. I was relieved to find someone like him who walked into our branch like a god send messiah at the right time.
An hour might have passed when I received a call from him. He sounded excited and troubled at the same time. He said that on the way to the Director’s office he met with an accident. His car bumped into another car and needs around Rs 10,000 (approximately USD 140) to settle the issue. As he forgot to take his wallet he requested me to help him with this money. Though I said ok I didn’t feel good the whole thing. The branch was teeming with people and I decided to step out to check the ATM premises.
When I stepped out I just let my eyes roam the street and the surroundings. To my surprise I saw our man (Khadi + Jeans) standing beside a tree on the far side and smoking a cigarette. Before he could see me I stepped back in to the branch and came and sat inside my cabin.
A few minutes later this guy rushed in and blabbered something about the accident and the money. I looked at him with a stern face and told him that I don’t have any cash with me and also I don’t have any intention of paying him. He looked at me and in that split second when our eyes stayed locked, I could see the anger and the shame of not falling into the trap set by him. Without uttering a single syllable, he just walked out of the branch. And I have never seen him again.
This raises one question. Why do people commit fraud?
There are various theories to this. The one which caught my eye is called “The Galatea Effect”. Self image determines behavior. People who have a strong sense of themselves as individuals are less likely to do unethical things.
Alternatively people who see themselves as determined by their environment or having their choices made for them are more likely to bend the rules, as they feel less individually responsible.
Another reason is cognitive dissonance and rationalization. When people’s actions differ from their morals, they begin to rationalize both to protect themselves from a painful contradiction and to build up protection against accusations. The bigger the dissonance, the larger the rationalization, and the longer it lasts, the less immoral it seems.
In this miasmic world of conceit and deceit, it becomes impossible to find the beacon of truth and honesty. It’s a thin line between good and evil and people are intertwined with these contradictory traits.
We are constantly tested and tried by people whom we come across and any weak spots would be taken advantage of. The only way to survive is to bullet proof our values and ethics and refuse to accede to provocations or fall prey to notoriety.
It is easy to lose trust in people. But building them requires courage. We can do it right if we take the initial steps through the prism of prudence and common sense.