P.T. Barnum is credited with the saying, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”  Ironically, it turns out he never actually said that. Instead, in an attempt to discredit him, another circus owner accused him of saying it in a newspaper article. Being the master showman, con artist — or politician, if you must — Barnum never denied it.  Instead, he thanked his accuser for the free advertising. Barnum was a genius at fooling people into believing things that common sense should have told them just couldn’t be true. Luckily, it’s 100 years later, and we is so much more smarter than we was…

Q: I was selling some tools on Craigslist and was contacted by a guy who offered to buy them for $500.  He sent me a check for $2000 by accident and when I talked to him, he said to just send him a cashier’s check back for $1250 and keep the remainder, since it was his mistake.  Am I right to think this sounds fishy?

A: If Charlie the Tuna is fishy, that story is the equivalent of Moby Dick swallowing the entire tuna factory.  Sorry, Charlie.  I’ve talked about e-mail scams involving Gen. Momo Bambuzli from Nigeria who randomly picked you to hold his wallet with a few million bucks in it. The general has pretty much figured the e-mail scam is old news, so he’s changed his name to Stevie Sunshine and good naturedly sent you too much money for your used buzz saw. Problem is, you deposit the check and it’s not until after you sent the money order back to him, you find out his check was a fake and you are on the hook for the entire amount you sent. There’s nothing you can do now. The money’s gone. Just remember, if the deal is too good to be true, it probably is. I understand times are tough, but if you’re looking for miracles, I can pretty much guarantee the real ones are not going to be located on Craigslist.  

Q:I was driving to class when another car hit me from behind. We exchanged information, but do I have to file a police report?

A: If no one was injured, you don’t have to file a police report. However, if there was an injury or death, then a police report must be filed.  In that case, you also have 10 days to file a notice with the Department of Motor Vehicles. If the damage to the vehicles is over $750, the DMV must be notified. Most insurance companies will do this as part of their services, but it’s still your responsibility to make sure it’s done.   

Q: I live in Los Angeles but go to school at UCSB.  While visiting home, I got a Minor in Possession ticket.  I need to take a diversion class to keep my driver’s license.  Can I take the class here and send the information to the L.A. court?

A: Each court has different rules.  Many courts will accept a certificate from a drug or alcohol class, as long as it meets the standards that court has set. The only way to know, though, is to call the court where you got the ticket and speak to the court clerk. Be prepared to provide the information on the class you want to attend and answer any questions about the program. If the court approves of the class, then you’re off and running! Hopefully, not from the cops… 

One of the things I learned from P.T. Barnum is that things are never as they seem.  If you look closely at what appears to be Bo-Bo the hairless three-toed pig boy, it turns out to be nothing more than a chihuahua with a strap-on pig nose and a bad hair day.  You don’t have to be skeptical about everything in life, but just be cautious and don’t be afraid to ask questions if something seems a bit off. P.T. Barnum himself was primarily known for his circus and sideshows of human oddities. Yet he was proud to be a politician who advocated the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, brought gas lights and water supplies to his constituents and helped start the Bridgeport Hospital in Connecticut. 

For better or worse, things are rarely as they appear when you first see them.  So keep that in mind the next time you hear a story about the cops or see something that doesn’t seem just right. I personally think that if Barnum was around today, he wouldn’t hesitate to tell you to Question Authority.    

Got caught by a cop? Your party popped by the popo? Ticked by a ticket? If you have questions, don’t let it eat away at you, Question Authority! E-mail me anytime at QA@police.ucsb.edu or call UCSB PD at 893-3446.