What's Tony Thinking

Put ‘Em in the Stocks


In the last year I’ve bit on two of the 2,000 emails scams to make their way into my in-box.

One of those was alleged to be sent by Comcast/ Infinity telling me that my account was to be closed imminently if I did not update it as prescribed. This one did not come in isolation. It was preceded a run up of “warnings,” “last chances,” and “the end is coming” emails. So finally, I thought, I’d better check.

That resulted in my email being hacked back in January and a number of you receiving messages saying that my niece was mortally ill in Burma and but that her life could be saved by an Amazon gift card, etc. That took a while to unravel.

Then the other day one came which was alleged to be from Norton Security Systems, to which I had once subscribed for computer security. This too was preceded by various run-up emails that grew increasingly dire until one informed me that my credit card had been billed $299.99 cents for a renewal of my contract. If you have any questions, please call 1 – 800 . . .

So I did. I got a voice that sounded like a person of Indian (India) extraction, as do many of those legitimate help-lines that exist for various things.

Long story short . . . after about 30 minutes of being led hither and yon among various apps and settings, all said to be necessary for getting me “the refund to which I was entitled,” I thought “this is nuts . . . this is a scam . . . goodbye.” They protested, “How can you say that when we’ve worked so well together?” and “I can’t let you end this transaction without speaking to our financial officer, blah, blah, blah.” Another hour of follow-up with our bank and sitting on the edge of my chair worried about identity theft.

On consideration, I am for bring back the pre-modern devices intended for punishment by public shaming, a.k.a. “stocks.” Or lock them up in some electronic public square where abuse may be heaped upon them.

Why am I so nuts about this kind of thing? Because it is one big part of the drip-drip-drip insidious erosion of any form of social trust — an erosion that is incredibly costly to us as a society. We come to the conclusion, understandably, “You really can’t trust anyone,” which is not a good place to be, and is pretty much where we are.

Add to this dis-information predators on social media and the distorters in politics and news outlets. Throw them in the stocks too. Shower them with rotten tomatoes and stinky eggs.

Undermining trust matters. Becoming a society where “you can’t trust anyone” is a society that is a mess.

Okay, I understand stocks won’t be reprised. They were outlawed in Britain in 1863. And I guess shaming anyone for anything is about the only thing we are ourselves to be ashamed of these days.

That said, there are some recent instances of something analogous. Like this one cited in the Wikipedia article linked above.

“In United States v. Gementera, (2004) the defendant was convicted of mail theft and sentenced, among other measures, to stand in front of a post office for eight hours wearing a sandwich board that read: “I stole mail. This is my punishment.” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld this sentence, finding that the district court did not impose it solely for the purpose of humiliation, but also to serve the criminal-justice goals of deterrence and rehabilitation.”

Intentionally and systematically making people distrustful seems to me a truly evil thing.

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