One of our most valuable assets is trust. But how do you trust in a world that includes numerous liars and scammers?

Being scammed is painful. There are many costs in being betrayed, but the first and most valuable loss is self-trust, because we wonder: “How did I let myself be deceived?”

Even though betrayal gives us an opportunity to learn, it hurts deeply.

Everything in our world is about balance and to avoid being scammed or betrayed, we need to balance trust and distrust. Naïve trust is unlikely to serve us. Neither is blanket distrust. Balanced trust includes wisdom.

How do we develop wisdom? Wisdom includes two qualities: knowledge and being fully present. Knowledge comes from experience. When we are fully present, our attention is intensely focussed on the current issue and is not caught up with unmet needs or distractions.

Let’s look at an example of using knowledge and being fully present when going through an email inbox.

Yesterday, I received an email from a company that was vaguely familiar. It contained an account for a yearly subscription of around $400 for computer security. I couldn’t remember subscribing to this organisation.

With that recall, most people would probably decide it was a scam, but recently I had received an email for a similar amount from an organisation for website hosting. I was sure I was not with that organisation anymore, but something told me to check it out. I did, and discovered that three years ago, I ordered hosting for a website. Circumstances had changed and I’d forgotten about it. Fortunately, it was easy to cancel.

Because of this earlier experience I hesitated to discount the first email as a scam, even though the email address was not appropriate. I took the time to do an email search, noticing I’d received similar emails in the past from this organisation. Even though I knew it was 99% a scam, I called the number on the account. The person answering hung up as soon as I asked a few pertinent questions. Scammers don’t waste time with people they cannot scam.

Being present and aware means paying attention and listening to our inner guidance. Sometimes that means checking the situation out. Doing so adds to our knowledge base. If we don’t want to be scammed, we need both knowledge and intuition.

Recently, I watched the four-part documentary series on Bernie Madoff, “The Monster of Wall Street.” Madoff’s Ponzi scheme cost investors $60 billion and lasted thirty years. I found it disturbing to see how many people, institutions and government agencies were conned for so long and so extensively. This educative show is thoroughly worth watching.

You might wonder how so many people could be so easily scammed out of their money.

A few wise traders knew it had to be a scam and reported it. But no federal investigation was thorough enough to uncover the scam. Bernie’s Ponzi scheme only failed because of the Global Financial Crisis.

No one, including the regulator, wanted to see the truth. Why? Because the truth was just too painful to contemplate. Even when challenged, most people refused to entertain any doubts and take a closer look. Instead, they chose to continue believing lies that were, in fact, too good to be true. People found it just too hard to entertain any possibility that they could be dealing with a crook. Such an idea was so emotionally and financially disturbing, it was immediately dismissed. Looking away like this is a form of self-deception.

Eleven days after the scam was finally exposed, one investor killed himself. He had previously admitted that if Bernie was a fraud, he was dead. The cost for him was high. Because of his confident investment recommendations, his family, his friends and associates lost everything. For many, facing the truth meant great hardship.

When we are distracted, similar fears are percolating in us, whether we are aware of them or not. We are afraid we might not like what we see. We might have to make difficult changes, lose relationships, our home, our job, our money, or face other hardships. Our fears can keep us bound to such deceptions.

In the documentary, we didn’t meet people who were offered investments with Madoff and refused. Those people were invisible. They kept their money.

Instead, we meet investors who did lose money. Some had questioned Bernie–a sensible approach when investing. But Bernie refused to answer any questions. Some of these investors still decided to put their money with Bernie, believing Bernie was discriminating about whose money he wanted. In fact, he wanted the money of the naïve—not the astute and wise—not investors who employed wise intuition and did due diligence before investing.

Those who invested were not fully present and aware. They were not in touch with their deeper needs. Our unconscious motivations can drive our decisions. We may be afraid of missing out or impatient. We might desire quick results and money. We could be lazy, neglecting doing due diligence. We may be flippant, entitled or harbour a naïve trust.

These are the sort of hidden motivations I have found in in those making poor investments, facing financial distress, or suffering failed relationships.

How do you know you can trust your intuition when making decisions?

You need to become brutally honest with yourself. You need to commit to exploring your motivations rigorously. Then you need to be courageous, brave enough to act on what you discover.

 The more unmet needs you have, buried deep in your psyche, the less honest you are likely to be with yourself. I believe that failing to understand our buried motivations can make us vulnerable to deception.

Self-understanding, being conscientious, and acting from our better self is a form of protection in a world of predators. My role in life is to help my clients attain that wisdom and self-protection.

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