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Scammers prey on the good hearts of the elderly

The call came in the morning.

“Your grandson was in a car accident,” the caller said. “He wasn’t wearing a seat belt. He went to the hospital. He had to get stitches. He’d been at a wedding. And he had a couple of glasses of wine. He’s in jail.”

The caller said he was a lawyer, a public defender. He gave my mother his name and a phone number. And a document number regarding her grandson’s case. The caller said her grandson’s phone had been broken in the accident. The caller let her talk to her grandson, who pleaded with her not to tell his mom what happened. The lawyer asked that she wire him $3,800 – today – or her grandson would stay in jail for several days.

This is what my desperate mother called to tell me recently. She didn’t want to break her promise to her grandson by calling his mother, my sister. Could I help? My mother has enough stress in her life. She’s almost 84. She has been fighting pancreatic cancer and is undergoing regular chemotherapy treatments. She helps care for my father. He is 85. He has dementia. They live in their own home. While they have home care aides around the clock, my mother has tried to maintain a degree of independence. And relative sanity. But this threw her into a panic.

It was a scam. But to my mother, the story seemed so plausible. She was convinced what the “public defender” told her was true. She was sure she had talked to her 21-year-old “grandson.”

I am thankful she called me. I said scam. My mom didn’t believe me. I called my husband, a lawyer and former public defender. He said scam. Public defenders don’t operate that way. They never ask for money upfront. I called my sister – the one my mother promised not to call – also a lawyer who still does public defense work. She said it’s a common scam. And senior citizens are usually the victims.

The National Council on Aging has a list of the “Top 10 Financial Scams Targeting Seniors.” It includes the “grandparent scam,” described this way: “The grandparent scam is so simple and so devious because it uses one of older adults’ most reliable assets, their hearts.”

While my mother was not scammed out of $3,800, she nevertheless was a victim of emotional abuse. But the story ended happily. My sister called her son, whose phone was not broken. And he was fine. He called his grandmother to reassure her that he was fine.

If you have an elderly loved one, talk to them about phone and Internet scams. Let them know they should never wire money. And remind them that if they do have a concern, before taking any action they should talk to loved ones to help determine whether they are the target of a scam.

The Senate Special Committee on Aging has a special hotline for fraud victims or loved ones of fraud victims to call: 1-855-303-9470.

I hope there is a special ring in hell for people like the scammer who called my mother.

Loni Smith McKown is a journalism educator from Carmel, Ind. This column first appeared in The Indianapolis Star.

Article source: http://www.northjersey.com/story/opinion/contributors/2017/08/08/scammers-prey-good-hearts-elderly/545191001/

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