The Elderly Are Often the Best Targets
On a hot summer day I arrived at my mother’s house to do yard work and to visit. I decided to talk to her before beginning my work. I went up the sidewalk to the front door. The door was open but the screen door was locked. I could see her inside talking animatedly.
I called out, “Hello, Mom. Will you let me in?” She waved me off. “I’m on the phone,” she said. “I’m talking to a government agent about insurance. I can’t talk to you right now.”
I thought about it for a minute. “What government agent and what insurance? Was it something she needed or was she being talked into something?”
I went around to the back and got out the lawnmower and the pruning sheers. Before I started working I went to the back screen door. Mom saw me peering in. She walked over and closed the sliding glass door. Then she locked it.
At first I was stunned by her behavior, but my curiosity was piqued. “What was going on? Why is she acting this way?” I questioned out loud.
I returned to the front door and listened in. I could only hear snippets of their conversation. “There are only fifteen people in the entire country that are getting these special rates? It’s because I’m a widow? Oh, and I have been randomly selected? How much is this insurance?”
By now I could see she had her checkbook out and was writing. A bad sign for sure. She continued talking on the phone. “That’s even better,” I heard her say. She wrote on a check and closed her checkbook. “Thanks for your help.” She hung up the phone, smiling at her good fortune. She hurried over and opened the screen. “Come in,” she said.
“Mom, I want to know about this insurance and this agent.” She was reluctant to tell me but with my persistent questioning she told me that she had been selected, one of only fifteen people in the U.S., to receive extra low cost health insurance. She had given the agent her name, her address, and as requested, the account number which was on the bottom of the check. She told me the agent had also instructed her to write a check.
Before Dad died he had always done any business deals and now Mom was beaming at her good fortune and her ability to close a transaction on her own.
She also informed me that during the conversation the agent decided he could make her an even better deal because she was so cooperative. He told her to write VOID across the check. She would get the insurance for half price. The bill would come later and then she could pay. “Isn’t that great?” she enthused. She paused expectantly for my consent.
“Mom,” I said quietly. “I know you’re trying to do something good by getting a better insurance rate. But this sounds like someone is trying to take advantage of you. Government agents don’t make special deals. They can’t.”
She began to cry. “Did I do something wrong?”
“You didn’t, Mom. There’s a con artist out there and he tricked you, that’s all.” I put my arm around her shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. We can fix this problem.”
I went to the phone and called my older brother and quickly explained the situation. Since he had Power of Attorney over her accounts he immediately notified her bank and arranged to have her account closed and placed in a new account. In addition he put limits on how much money she could withdraw at one time. Her retirement money was again safe.
As I left that day I asked myself a few questions. “What if I had not arrived when I did? Would all of her money been taken? Did the “agent” tell her to void the check so she would think no money would pass hands and if anyone else saw the check nothing would be suspected? Are the elderly easy targets? What can be done to stop the scam artists?”
As I drove home I determined I would spread the word and warn any who would listen. That would be my new mission.
When You Lose Your Identity
On a warm beautiful California spring day I took my two labs for a walk along the St. John’s River. My wife had dropped me off and left to run some errands.
An hour later she returned to pick me up. Although it was noon and there were no other cars in the parking lot she placed her purse on the floor, locked the pickup, and walked up the levee. I was coming up the other side and she went down to greet me and the dogs. Ten minutes later as we approached the pickup we noticed glass on the ground. There was a window broken out on the passenger side. We looked around but no one was present.
My wife opened the door and gasped. “My purse is gone,” she exclaimed. Not only had her purse been taken, but gone was her money, her credit cards, and her driver‘s license. She quickly notified the police and recorded her loss. The dispatcher was sympathetic and said someone would be there shortly.
While my wife waited she immediately began calling all the companies which had issued her credit cards. “Cancel my card,” she demanded. “It’s been stolen. I don’t want someone using my card.” Within thirty minutes she had efficiently cancelled every card and was assured that the thieves could not use her cards.
A squad car pulled up fifteen minutes later. A policeman got out, took my wife’s information for his report, said he would let us know if anything was found, and then left.
At the moment there was nothing further the police could do. There was no reason to worry. The thieves would soon be caught if they tried to use anything. Everything seemed to be under control and she could relax. She was prepared for anything, or so she thought.
There was a another problem besides the credit cards. Her social security card was missing. That meant someone had access to her identity three ways: her credit cards, her driver’s license, and her social security card.
When the bills started coming in we checked our statements and yes, there had been unauthorized activity on most of the cards. The Visa and Mastercard had been used to obtain cash quickly and thousands of dollars worth of merchandise had been charged to our accounts in spite of the cards being cancelled. But because my wife had acted quickly we were only held accountable for a small portion of the charges.
My wife’s financial reputation was impugned. She called the stores’ credit departments again to reaffirm that her cards had indeed been cancelled. In addition, there was a stipulation. In order to use any card, she had to be there in person and show forms of identification. One credit manager was surprised and said my wife had reopened her account and had even showed her driver’s license. Checking further my wife found out that a man showed up, said he was the daughter’s boyfriend, and reopened the account and walked away with several hundreds of dollars of clothing.
Another department store manager refused a credit card when it was offered and reported the incident. The manager had known my wife for years and knew it was a scam. Even with a description of the identity thieves, they were not caught and they left a trail of deceit and credit card abuse.
My wife paid to have her credit checked by a security firm on a monthly basis, and the firm let her know when any undue activity occurred. She worked hard to keep her reputation intact over a two year period. Eventually the activity slowed, then ceased. It was not until she filed for an income tax refund that the last problem was discovered. Her refund was rejected because someone else had already used her social security number for their taxes.
She had to reprove her identity. Her birth certificate and other records had to be taken to the Social Security branch and validated. Only then could she use her social security number again.
Every month identity thieves find new victims. Stolen mail, stolen checks, stolen wallets and purses, are all acquired by someone who is close by watching. Internet thieves and hackers are also ready for the unwary. They think they deserve any money they can pry from innocent or foolish people. The fruits of their labors may mean some people are poorer. They search out the elderly, the innocent, the careless, and the naïve.
Bang the gong. Sound the alarm. Let everyone know there are wolves among the flock ready to leap and devour. Don’t wait to be sadder but wiser. Keep a vigilant eye for the pickpockets in the crowd and alert everyone who will listen.
By Dan Roberson