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Elder Scams: What You Need to Know

August 26, 2020

It can happen to anyone, no one is truly scam proof. For almost an entire year my 90-year-old grandfather was the victim of a phone scam. He mailed thousands of dollars in cash to a stranger who claimed to be an FBI agent, who needed money to keep my uncle from losing his job, tarnishing his good name, and going to jail. Sounds a bit fishy, right? Because it is! My grandfather, unfortunately, fell under this stranger’s spell and for months willingly mailed huge sums of his life savings to a P.O. Box in South Florida.

Thanks to a call from a victim specialist at the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, my family learned that the postal service had intercepted an envelope full of cash sent by my grandfather that they believed was headed to a scammer. Once my mom and uncle got over the immediate shock, they spoke to my grandfather, but when mentioning the subject, he got very defensive. He’d say things like, “It’s all above board”, “It’s all legal”, and more often, “I can’t talk to you about that”. He would get very angry, an emotion I had never seen him express ever before. He needed help, but it was impossible to get through to him.

The USPIS victim specialist suggested we contact the police to report the scam, speak with his banks, and she sent along a list of steps to help bring this to an end. The police were a very supportive resource. My mom filed a police report and the officers suggested hosting an intervention for my grandfather with my mom, dad, aunt and uncle present. With the help of the police, they tried to explain to my grandfather that these calls were scams, that my uncle was not in trouble, that he was not in danger of losing his job. It was a difficult day; my grandfather was not receptive to the intervention. My family knew they could help but the hardest part would be doing it without upsetting him.

My mom and family worked for months to stop the scammers from contacting my grandfather and to stop my grandfather from continuing to send money. The back and forth between the phone company alone took weeks to have calls forwarded and his number changed. We had to screen his mail. Legally appointing a Power of Attorney was another important step to be able to set limits on bank accounts, credit cards, and notify Social Security in case his SSN had been stolen. It was a huge effort on my mom’s part, but for a loved one in need, it’s what you do.

What We Learned
There are all kinds of scams out there; internet, email, social media, phone, postal, and yes, even Coronavirus scams. Scammers will impersonate family members as emotional scare tactics to prey on the lonely and confused. They will brainwash older folks into believing things they would normally know to be false.

For the family or caregiver of an older person it is so important to be aware of these threats. By simply checking in once every day you might be able to save a person from the theft of their life savings, credit, social security number, and identity. If something doesn’t seem right, question it. If your loved one seems out of sorts, talk to them or arrange a visit to their GP. Elders should not feel embarrassed or ashamed. To have an open line of non-judgemental communication between caregivers and the elderly is really helpful.

Looking back on the months before my family knew of the scam, I remember my grandfather, typically a happy conversationalist, becoming closed off. His daily phone calls became few and far between and much shorter than usual. At family gatherings, he would leave as soon as the meal was over. He was showing signs that even his closest relatives didn’t pick up on.

Helpful Resources
In my family’s experience, there was not one single resource that answered all our questions or solved all our problems. This is why word of mouth and sharing experiences is so important, so we can learn from one another.

  1. Create a checklist to help keep organized. Visit the Postal Inspection Service website: www.uspis.gov for tips on scam prevention and steps to end scamming in progress.
  2. Reach out to local police. File a report on the scamming incident, if needed get their assistance with an intervention. The police have information on other scam victims, the number of incidents happening on a local and state level. They are here to help.
  3. Speak to local businesses; banks, WesternUnion, grocery stores, pharmacies, and convenience stores. Let them know what is happening with your loved one. They have experienced other victims of scam and have procedures in place to help. Set an alert or limit bank account withdrawals, take down your loved one’s name, refuse to sell them gift cards or MoneyGram.
  4. Call the Post Office. Have your loved one’s mail forwarded for you to screen. Check with FedEx and UPS to see if your loved one has been sending packages with cash.
  5. Reach out to your phone company. Monitor calls, do not answer, get a phone with caller ID, and set up a voicemail account. Do an online search of suspicious numbers and see what pops up. Many scam phone numbers are reported online. Then block those suspicious numbers. Change phone numbers if you must, have calls from the old number forwarded.
  6. Consult a lawyer and social security. Make sure you have legal authority to help your loved one.

Caregivers and family members play such an important role in an older person’s healthy aging. When it comes to scams the more information, resources, and tips we have, the better protection we can provide to our elderly. Be aware of scamming and act fast if you believe it is happening to a loved one.

My family hopes that one day all elder scammers will be caught and put away for their crimes. The money my grandfather sent away is gone for good and we’ve made our peace with that because it’s really the least important thing.

Today, thanks to the love and steadfast determination of my mom and family, my grandfather is safe. He is open and talkative again, dispensing ninety years’ worth of stories. He laughs and has joy in his life. He keeps active, eats a healthy diet, does home improvement projects, maintains his bird feeders, watches NASCAR & Late Night talk shows, and enjoys family time. My grandpa is back to his lovable self and that is worth more than anything.

Submitted by Jenny Stronk of Thyme & Season and The Common Bond Markets. www.ThymeAndSeason.net. 203-407-8128.

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