As a growing number of our population ages, more and more children of elderly parents find themselves struggling to understand how their parents got swindled out of their savings and wonder what they could have done to prevent it.
Feelings of absolute shock and disbelief, along with rage, at the people who had taken advantage of his dad sums up the emotions “Mike” shared with us when he first learned about the scam. Mike’s father became the victim of elder abuse. We refer to him in our story only as Mike and do not show his dad’s face to protect their privacy.
Mike’s father married his high school sweetheart, raised seven children, and at age 18 signed up for the Army and flew 34 missions over France and Germany during WWII. He’s a hero to our country but easy prey for a scammer.
Mike relays how he came to discover what was going on with his dad..”Well in June of 2013, about a year and half ago, I received a call from a friend of his who was very concerned about his actions and state of mind. It turned out he was sending money using money grams to people he had never met.
He would send the money after a phone call requesting money. The scam actually had a basis in fact, related to a time share he owned and wanted to dispose of.
“Is this for real? I called my sisters and brothers. We are in disbelief. Absolute disbelief…not my dad. He could not be involved. He’s always been very conservative with his money…frugal,” said Mike.
Mike says his father won’t even consider spending money on refurbishing his own home because he is concerned he will be taking money away from his children’s inheritance. Mike and his siblings aren’t interested in their dad’s money… “we want him to spend his money. He’s earned it. He’s 91 years old. He owes it to himself”
Mike, who lives in San Diego, traveled to the Coachella Valley to meet with his dad and get an idea of the damage.
“I sat down with my dad and he was very upfront about what was going on. He showed me the receipts from all the money grams. I sat down with my laptop and started a tally sheet and as I got into the tens of thousands of dollars…my stomach was churning, I’m shaking.”
Mike estimates his father willingly gave the scammers a little over $80,000. He confronted his father, “Dad, don’t you realize what is going on here? You’re too smart to have this happen to you. These people are just taking your money and you’re getting nothing in return. Not one stitch of paperwork that showed legitimacy.”
His dad responded by yelling, “THESE PEOPLE ARE MY FRIENDS…I TRUST THEM!”
Mike’s concern escalated, “He said he trusts them. He gave them his bank account number…I’m thinking oh my word.”
He called everyone he thought could help get his dad’s money back, including the police, social services and an attorney. Mike and his father visited the bank and changed his dad’s account numbers. Fortunately, the bank account had not been touched.
“My thinking is he was such a willing and cooperative victim, they would call sometimes twice a day asking for money and he would send it,” said Mike.
Changing the bank account numbers proved to not be enough to keep the scammers at bay. Mike’s dad continued to contact his “friends” via the phone. Mike hopes the abuse has finally stopped now after some interventions and changing his dad’s phone number four times.
So far, three people have been arrested for scamming his dad. It’s unclear if they are connected but Mike strongly believes there are more people out there and they are somehow affiliated. His dad would receive calls from people identifying themselves as attorneys or private investigators, “you’ve been sending money to this attorney..he is a flim flam man and he’s basically been scamming you. I’m a private detective I can bail you out just send me some money.” Now the money goes in a different direction.
It’s very unlikely Mike’s dad will ever get his $80,000 back.
Geri Crippen-Richardson hears about many elder victim scams in the Desert. She’s Director of the C.A.R.E. Program which stands for curtailing abuse related to the elderly in Riverside County.
Crippen-Richardson says, “We have a lot of scams that we try to educate people about. The scam artist feels this is an affluent retirement community and there is money here and so they’re making phone calls during the day when they think people are home and retired. They don’t care whether you are living on $700 of social security or if you have millions of dollars. They are hitting everybody and they are trying to get every last dime.”
She also tell us, “Sweepstakes scams are always huge, with any of these scams it’s about checking it out and reporting it and never sending money out. Sweepstakes scams, the IRS scam and jury duty scams, and we also have the grandma scams, as we call it, and that’s been going on for quite awhile. It’s about knowing about the scam before you get that phone call that throws you off and in a panic you make the wrong decision”.
Important information Crippen-Richardson suggests passing along to our aging parents: check out any cold call or email from a person you don’t know that is concerning. This can be done by calling the police, C.A.R.E. or even the agency the person claims to be representing. Never ever give out personal information and do NOT send any money.
According to Crippen-Richardson, “The longer they have you on the phone the more likely they are to continue to call. Even if they don’t ask for any money upfront or information, they will catalog the information you give them so that they can use that against you later. They will become friends with you. They will be friendly with you at first and ask for money and after awhile when you stop sending them money, we’ve had cases where they get very nasty and threatening and very scary”.
She advises the best thing to do is just hang up and not answer the phone if you are not familiar with the number. She also tells us you can’t rely on Caller ID because scammers now have access to programs that can make their phone number appear to be originating from a legitimate source.
Her suggestion to adult children who fear this is happening to their own parent is to be proactive, because under these circumstances the law won’t be on your side … your parents retain their rights.
“Have that conversation with your parent as soon as possible and then maybe set it up so that you have a joint account so that you can monitor online banking to see if anything sketchy is going on there. Have a support system so that there ‘s other family members talking with that family member. Keep them active. The more active they are the less likely they are to become someone who sits at home and waits for a call from anybody,” according to Crippen-Richardson.
“We can help them understand the scam but it’s up to the person who was scammed to make the determination what to do after because they retain their rights…we can’t force them into placement. We can’t force them to give up their phone. We do encourage them to change their numbers and set up barriers so it doesn’t happen again, says Crippen-Richardson.
As in the case of Mike’s dad, most people scammed will never see a return of their money. Crippen-Richardson tell us with most scams the money leaves the country and never comes back. “It’s about stopping the bleeding basically. Find out about the scams before your parent keeps sending more and more and more because the scammers follow up scams with more scams in most cases”.
Here are a couple helpful websites: