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The definition of a charlatan is: a person falsely claiming to have special knowledge or skill; a fraud. The charlatans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries peddled health elixirs and alchemic shortcuts to wealth, while moving from town to town.

As prisoners, we have an insatiable need and desire to believe in things that give us hope and make our lives better. This makes us prone to gullibility and easy targets for greasy swindlers peddling their get-rich-quick schemes, too-good-to-be-true legal assistance packets and questionable ABC's-of-law books. These latter-day defrauders are everywhere, trying to peddle their gimmicks and line their filthy pockets with prisoners' money. They think it's as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. But it doesn't have to be.

Prisoners can protect themselves from these scams by simply being aware and gather information before buying into them. If someone is promising to show you how to make a thousand dollars a week from your prison cell, they're likely a charlatan. There is no magic formula for wealth, it is acquired through intense concentration on goals and continued hard work until those goals are attained.

There are hundreds of non-profit organizations that offer free legal assistance to prisoners, who receive grants and donations that are tax-deductible. Seek them and you'll find the without paying for something you can get for free.

And lastly, there are a lot of ABC's-of-law books out there, promising to make law into something super-simple. Most are self- published by charlatans who never even litigated a criminal or civil case. Be wise, do your research. Anyone who ever practice~ law left evidence of their work. Type their name into your law library's computer and see what experience the individual has in litigation. If there are no results, the book was probably written by a charlatan who believes "Prisoners are suckers; they buy anything." Prove them wrong; don't be one.

Zachary A. Smith is the author of the Smith Guides

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