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Book Review: Gotchyaa by Steven Stiles

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For any spiritually minded person, Christian or otherwise, it is difficult to strike the right balance between compassion and self-preservation. We live in a cynical world. While we have always been surrounded by people who would find any way to take advantage of others, we now have unprecedented access to learning about the con games and pyramid schemes with which we are faced. This knowledge can feel overwhelming and tempt us to draw into ourselves, ceasing to give all together.

Steven Stiles, author of Gotchyaa: True Tales of Con Artists and Other Modern Day Wolves Who Prey on the American Church, encourages us to retain our giving nature, but to apply precautions that will leave us less vulnerable to spiritual con artists.

Gotchyaa uses a readable story format to reveal many of the common capers con artists use to prey upon centers of Christian charity. He follows a hypothetical couple, the Snomasters, as they skip from town to town taking what they need, leaving confusion and hurt in their wake. In a parallel story, he follows Tripp, the bounty hunter, who has taken the Snomaster’s capture on as a personal project.

Stiles does a nice job illuminating a variety of different schemes, including information about the set up, the con itself and the way in which the con gets away. He applies these stories to a number of charitable organizations, such as churches, deacon’s funds, homeless shelters and food banks. He is very explicit in terms of explaining why these schemes work and the psychology behind the people who are giving of their time, effort and money.

At the end of each chapter, there are reflection questions to aid in group discussion for the staff of charitable organizations. Given that the author’s focus is on use of this book as a tool for Christian organizations, his offering of various passages from Scripture provides a useful framework for considering the most Christian response to con artist games. These features will doubtlessly help many groups formulate plans to avoid being taken advantage of.

The weakness of this book is that Stiles does not offer citations for his assertions regarding the psychology and mindset of the con artists or their “marks.” He goes into some detail about underlying thought processes, but does not provide back-up information to demonstrate that his assertions are psychologically valid.

In addition, the storyline of Tripp, the bounty hunter, seemed extraneous. Following the Snomasters themselves as they executed their fraudulent practices was engaging enough. If that alone had been paired with well-cited psychological/sociological sources then this book would have many applications to a large group of people beyond its original intended audience.

Nonetheless, Gotchyaa will be useful for staff and volunteers in Christian charitable organizations. If it is able to educate these people in how to defend themselves, even only within this one defined demographic group, it provides a good service to the world.

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