Every day, my dad gets his mail and reads every last thing — no matter what it is. The process can take an hour, sometimes two. There are advertisements, bills, surveys, requests from charitable organizations — and notices of winnings and awards. Tonight, he received a “notification of delivery” that declared he was the “Sole Recipient” of a 2013 Mercedes-Benz CLS automobile if he would return the “property recipient certificate” with a $20 processing and direct shipping fee today. But tonight was unusual for another reason. It was the only notification he received. He routinely gets one to six offers, awards, or notifications a day.
And then there are the calls. Back in August, someone called his home phone saying he had won $450,000 in a lottery and just needed to send a payment of $1,700 through Western Union as a guarantee to claim the prize. A driver would arrive at his home at 10:00 a.m. the next morning to take him to the bank so they could deposit his winnings. My dad willingly gave the individual his home address and cell phone number so they could confirm that everything would be taken care of properly.
Gratefully, he came to me the next morning to ask if this was a scam. I listened to the pitch he had been given and confirmed it was a scam, but I was very concerned about a driver showing up to the house. Years ago, my parents had been taken in a similar scheme that cost them $19,000. When I learned of the matter, I gave the information to the FBI. We received death threats from the individuals involved in the scam after that, and it was all the more frightening to know that they had my parents' address.
When the FINRA survey came out last week, I was more than interested to dive into the results. It confirmed why my dad is a prime target. He is educated and elderly, but he also fits the personality traits the survey discusses: agreeable, open, conscientious. Like many of his generation, he doesn't feel the need to hide anything. That would be dishonest.
The magnitude of the problem is a big problem.
Scammers are relentless, but they don't just prey on the elderly. A few years ago, I came across an employment ad on Craigslist that required me to submit my credit information to a sophisticated webpage so I could undergo a pre-employment background check “before my interview.” I didn't fall for the ruse, but how many of you would be able to spot these scams?
You may be surprised to learn how many different kinds of scams there are. Western Union has broken them down into 10 major schemes. They are committed to protecting consumers and have dedicated a portion of their website to fraud education and intervention. Western Union has a fraud hotline (800-448-1492). You can forward suspicious emails to [email protected]. But when we went to the sheriff's office that day out of concern that some unscrupulous person would come to the house, we learned that our local authorities are overwhelmed and have no ability to respond to these scams.
Left to our own devices, I decided to start choking off the entry points. I insisted that we nix my dad's phone service and change his cell phone number. We have more dialogue about fraud too, and he's telling his friends about his experience. We hope our story will help others become aware, protect themselves before they are targeted, and report fraud when it happens. But is that all we could do? How can we choke more entry points? Have you been the victim of fraud? What was their modus operandi, and did you report the scam? What was the result?