It can happen to you

WE are always told in life that you don’t have to worry about being in tight spots if you live honestly, stay true to yourself, know your own limitations and love the Lord. That’s what my Grandma Cookie always told me.
These days, it seems that anyone can be minding their own business, living their own life and then, someone else, reaches out of nowhere, tells an absolute lie and drags an innocent person into their mess. And, we all should be concerned - it can happen to any of us; anytime, any day, anywhere.

 

When someone tells a complete lie, it is an amazingly powerless feeling for the victim. It is almost like coming home and finding your house broken into and all of your stuff stolen or looking into your handbag at the cash register only to find that you have been robbed in a sneaky way by some pick-pocket on Independence Avenue.

My Mom went through this some years back. She had her identity stolen by some criminal. In Namibia, this is only now happening to people, but in many other places, identity theft is a constant problem. [Readers, make sure you protect your ID number! Anyone can use it for wrong things and cause you loads of trouble!]

Identity theft happens when thieves get access to your ID number, address, and job information and then set up bank accounts or apply for credit cards with your information. Then, they write bad checks and run up charges buying lots of easily re-sellable goods (like jewellery, electronics, and cell phones.) When the months pass and bills go unpaid, it is you that the shops, police, banks and courts come after, not the criminal who did the stealing. The bad guys are off enjoying the fruits of their labour while you get left holding the bag.

Eventually, the truth comes out and the person, whose name was sullied, emerges as the innocent victim. But, until that time, the pure injustice of the situation is infuriating.

My Mom’s social security number (like a national ID number here) was stolen and this person opened up several accounts in her name. This criminal opened a checking account in her name, but using a phony address, and paid for goods with cheques written on that account. The same person used those ill-gotten credit cards to buy all kinds of stuff. Then, after about three months of this, the criminal disappeared.

My Mom had to spend money for lawyers, get a court order re-establishing her legal identity and endure over five years of being denied credit and being pursued by bill collectors at various times. Whenever she applied for any credit or bank loan, she had to attach those court documents that verified the identity theft.

The worst thing for our family was the sheer injustice of what happened to her. She did nothing wrong; in fact, she was the victim of the crime, yet she had to pay the price in terms of a black mark against her name.

A close friend here in Namibia also went through something similar when his tax refund cheque was stolen from the post. A person who was part of the theft network was caught trying to cash it. That thief claimed that the cheque was willingly given over to him by my friend as a payment for some work that was done. In fact, the thief was lying through his teeth as he had never met my friend and he knew it! But, he wanted to pull at straws to try to stave off his inevitable conviction.

All of us know that the legal system in Namibia takes so very long to conclude its process that any information gap, query or other issue (no matter how large or small), can mean 1-2 more years of the accused person free from final judgement. Look at that Caprivi Case! I once read that an objection to one lesser matter took a year to resolve. Side decisions in that case took even more years! For me, “justice delayed is justice denied.” But, that is just me.

In my friend’s case, the guy who stole the tax refund cheque told that lie, won a delay in the trial for nearly 10 months. It took time to gather the witnesses (including my friend) with all the lawyers, and find an opening in the magistrate’s calendar and continue the case. In the end, he was convicted, but he got nearly a year free on bail just by making up ridiculous story. Why can’t magistrates make a bench judgement against such incredible fantasy tales told without a shred of other evidence to back it up?

I remember a horrible case in the USA where this woman accused a ‘black man’ of carjacking her and subsequently kidnapping her two young children who were strapped in car seats at the back. This occurred in the American South and a white woman accused a black man who hijacked her car and kidnapped her two white children. You can imagine the police and public frenzy that took place! Black men fitting that description, from one end of that state to the other were stopped, hassled, arrested, pushed around, handcuffed in public, searched, insulted and detained.

In the end, the truth was so very sad. That woman knowingly and purposefully sunk her car in a deep lake with her own kids strapped in the back seat because some man that she was in love with didn’t want her because she had two young children. So, she killed her kids to get them out of the way. For more than two weeks she appeared on television crying into the cameras, pleading for the ‘black man’ to “keep the car, but, please give my babies back!” All the while, she KNEW her kids were dead at the bottom of the lake where she put them.

Some of these innocent black men were arrested in front of their children, pulled out from their jobs, and one guy was taken away while at church. The apology the officials gave afterwards didn’t erase those men’s public humiliation of being dragged into the legal system because of someone else’s lie.

There was another case some years ago where a man claimed a black man had shot and killed his pregnant wife in an attempted robbery. To hide his murder of his own wife; he used the racist stereotype that is accepted by the general public in the USA, that all black men are born criminals.

It took several months for the police to look at evidence that was staring them right in the face. They chose to chase down black men for supposedly killing a pregnant white woman than consider that the rich white man in the fancy suit right in their faces was the one who did the deed!

It is so easy to manipulate public assumptions to fit under-handed agendas by telling the ‘big’ lie and damaging innocent people.

Society tends to believe that where there is smoke, there is fire. And, society never really forgets a headline, even if it was proven later on to be totally wrong! This reality is what makes a false accusation even more unjust.

What is most amazing is that the innocent person, whose name is dragged into someone else’s problems due to a lie, actually has no concern or interest in the matter!

People telling such big lies usually have a delusion that everyone is attentive to what is happening to them; when actually the vast majority of regular folks just value their own priorities, tend to their own affairs and really couldn’t care less.

WINDHOEK OBSERVER

The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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