Elder Abuse Hits Home
Elder abuse comes in one of four forms…
this time, it staged a three-pronged attack.
Late last year, my dear friend (and former caregiver) got a call:
“Is that you, Douglas?”
“No. Grandma. I need your help!”
“Grandma, a friend and I went to British Columbia to attend a friend’s wedding.”
(Hmmm, that’s strange, Terrance wouldn’t go with a friend. He’d go with his family. Then again, I don’t see him but a couple times per year. Maybe this was a man thing.)
“Grandma, my friend drank too much; so, I agreed to drive. Well, I had a little to drink, too…we got into an accident.”
“Oh honey, what happened?”
“Well, they put us in jail … please don’t call my family. I am so embarrassed.”
(This can’t be. He’s [in law enforcement]; what’ll happen to his job?)
“What can I do?”
“Well, I need to post bail. Grandma, I need your help.”
“Honey, how much?”
Elder abuse comes in one of four forms–emotional, financial, mental, and physical. This time it staged a three-pronged attack–financial, emotional, and mental.
Financial abuse harms not only the victim’s pocketbook; it compromises a person’s emotional and mental stability. My dear and otherwise confident friend enjoyed seventy-six years of life on this earth and survived many of its challenges until she received this phone call.
A recent widow, with a modest inheritance from her parents, she thought she was helping her grandson.
“How can I get the money to you, honey?”
“Grandma, Wal-Mart has a payment system. All you need to do is present them with the cash and my name. I’ll call you after you get the cash and explain what to do.”
She successfully completes the transaction. The following day, the phone rings.
“Grandma. Thank you. I am now out of jail. I appreciate this very much.”
“Oh, you’re welcome, honey. So everything worked out fine, then.”
“Yes, Grandma. But, Grandma? I need a plane ticket to return home … and I owe money for the rental car repairs.”
“Oh honey, how much?”
“Uh … okay.”
“Since my friend rented the car, car you make it out in his name?”
“What’s his name?”
Again, my friend withdraws money. (Two sizable withdrawals in two consecutive days, raises the suspicion of the kindly teller at the neighborhood bank. Despite this, the teller counts out the cash.) My friend returns to Wal-Mart to complete the second transaction when the supervisor behind the counter asks her if she knows this person. In an effort to protect the privacy of her grandson she lies and says hesitatingly, “Ye-as.” So, once again, they complete the transaction.
After she returns home, the phone rings. It’s someone from an agency that monitors fraud on the MoneyGram program at Wal-Mart. The representative asks her questions knowing she has sent large sums of money in a 24-hour period to two different people in Canada. Trying protect her grandson, she tells the fraud detection person that her reasons for sending the money are none of his business since this is a personal matter. He replies that he does not like her evasive answers and so he is cancelling the second transaction and tells her to return to Wal-Mart to have her $3,800 refunded. (He is almost certain this is a classic scam.)
The phone rings again.
“Grandma, what happened?”
“It didn’t go through.” She tells him about the second payment being cancelled.
“Okay, if you don’t mind, please just make the payment out to me, again. But this time, can you please go to Western Union? I’ll talk you through it when you get there.” Western Union completes the second transaction (no questions asked).
Two days go by and she grows curious as to if her grandson returned home safely. She carefully places the call, worried his wife may pick up. She mentally rehearses what she’ll give as the reason for her call. Instead, he picks up the phone.
“Honey, how are you?
“I’m fine Grandma. How about you?”
In a hushed tone, in case his wife is near and might overhear, she asks, “So, how did it go?”
“How did what go, Grandma?”
“Grandma? I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about.”
Her heart sinks. Devastated, she tells him the story. Being in law enforcement, he immediately calls the local sheriff’s station to go to her home to file a report.
My dear friend lost $9,400 in 48 hours. But more importantly, her self-confidence was shaken to its very core. After losing a parent and then her husband, she was emotionally shaken and left to wonder whether she has the mental capacity of sound judgment. We both know she would have gladly helped her family, her community, and a worthy organization. Instead, because she was unaware, she fell prey to a senseless crime.
It’s amazing how eloquently a con artist can appeal to our emotions. Even the most savvy person can be lulled into bypassing reason. Consider, after he denied being Douglas, he never confirmed he was Terrance. An otherwise, confident, well-functioning adult’s love for her grandchild made her act automatically. She had the funds; she wanted to help her family.
Although she is embarrassed by the experience (who wouldn’t be?), she wants to help others. The three lessons she learned and now shares with others are:
- Ask more questions even if you feel embarrassed about not trusting your family member or friend. You want to be sure the caller is who you think s/he is.
- Have someone else call the caller’s family (to honor a request for privacy) to confirm the caller’s location.
- Don’t agree to a vow of silence. This is the scammer’s ticket to success.
Twice, people tried to step in and help her and twice the con got the better of her as she obediently went along with the fraud.
Remember, this can happen to YOU.
Brenda Avadian, MA will offer a half-day AKUDA workshop to agencies that interact with the elderly–prime targets of fraud and abuse. The next victim could be your loved one! Brenda will also present workshops to community-based groups in partnership with local law enforcement to reduce victimization through awareness and skill. Please write to Brenda Avadian, MA for more information.
©2009 Brenda Avadian, MA
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