Today, I had an interesting experience.
I went to the bank today to deposit a couple of checks (or “cheques”, for my Canadian and UK readers). I drove up to my bank, filled in the deposit slip, signed the back of checks, entered in the deposit envelopes into ATM and prepared to walk away. But before I could, I was stopped by the lady behind me.
Keep in mind that this was a Sunday and there was no assistance from bank tellers or anything like that. But, there was this lady behind me and as I walking away, she kind of held out her arm and asked for assistance. She was of Latino descent, a few years older than me but spoke in broken English. I could understand her but could tell that she probably hadn’t been in the country for very long. She wanted help depositing a check into her bank account.
What did I do? Well, since I am such a good guy I helped her out. I verified to make sure that she signed the back of the check, pulled out one of the deposit envelops from the slot beside the ATM and had her put the checks into the envelope. I also made sure that she put the amount of the check onto the back of the envelope (this bank has places on the back where you can write in the total amount of cash plus check). Next, I told her to insert her card. She seemed a little confused by how to work the machine and so I further deduced that she probably hadn’t been in the country that long. I showed her how to do it. I instructed her to enter in her PIN and I deliberately averted my eyes.
The first time this didn’t work so well. She either didn’t hit the buttons hard enough and put in only two numbers instead of four, or she put it the code correctly and then hit the wrong on-screen button. In either case, the machine returned her card. Well, that didn’t work so we tried it again. Once again, I instructed her to put her code in and once again, I averted my eyes so I could not see her PIN number. However, I glanced out of the corner of my eye passively so that I could tell when she was done. She completed, and I took over by pressing “Deposit”, and then showed her how to insert the check into her account. We completed the rest of the transaction in a few seconds and then she was on her way. She thanked me and then we departed from each other’s presence.
I bring up this vignette to illustrate that people trust each other to behave in an ethical manner. In this situation, I could have looked at her PIN number but chose not to. I could have looked at more of her information like her name and address or anything similar, but chose not to. I did this in order to preserve her privacy and help out my fellow members of humanity (well, truth be told, I was thinking that I could maybe use this topic in a blog post). I wasn’t in it for anything other than that.
But I started thinking how I could have stolen that information. And if I did, what kind of lowlife would I have to be in order to do something like that? I kind of shook my head because you would have to be very ethically challenged to take advantage of someone like that who was asking for your help, but then you turn around and do them harm under the ruse of helping them. Quite frankly, if you are in a position to voluntarily assist someone and the cost to you is minimal (such as a case like this), then you should go ahead and do it.
Contrast this to phishers who exploit users’ trust and/or naïveté. In most of every day, we expect people to act ethically and morally. Phishers take advantage of this and exploit this assumption that most of us have for their own personal gain. It is selfish to act in such a way so as to take advantage of people’s natural trust and expectations of belief that others will act in an upright manner, only to turn around and cause them harm. Just like this lady at the bank today, when people get notices in their mail indicating that they need to take action, they have inherent trust that the message is from their bank and then they get tricked into taking action. Unfortunately, the people behind these email notifications have malicious intent and instead of getting a benign notification, instead, they are fooled into giving up information and money – money that they worked hard for.
One of the reasons I do what I do is in order to thwart the other side – the side of spammers, phishers, etc. Even though the company I work for has formed a business around mail delivery and spam filtering, quite frankly, if one day we all managed to put spammers out of business and therefore I was out of work I would have no problem with that. Making the need for someone like myself obsolete is my end goal. I think it’s kind of idealistic to want to “save the Internet” or “protect the people against the spammers” but that does how I see my role from time to time (well, probably much more often than not). And so on I fight – because people trust others and my job is to protect them from people that they cannot trust.