A Cautionary Tale

Hi everyone. This is Day Two of me trying to blog and being bombarded to the point where I almost couldn’t. Unfortunately, this is going to be an ongoing issue, and I think it’s time to come clean because it may have an ongoing effect on my abilities to blog. At first, I wasn’t going to mention anything to anyone, especially here. I’m having a serious family problem, and I suppose the argument could be made that I need to keep it private. However, if sharing my story means that someone else doesn’t go through what I am currently attempting to manage and deal with…so be it. Privacy be damned. Secrets are what got me here to begin with.

Some phone calls just aren’t fun

There is quite a backstory, but I’m going to skip ahead the first ten years or so and start from the beginning of MY journey with all of this, which was yesterday when I got a phone call from my mom. I had known my mom was going to call to talk with me, and I was already anxious. I knew something was up, but never in my wildest dreams would I have come up with what I was about to be told.

About a year ago my mom moved to Maryland to live with my aunt and cousin. I was thrilled for her because she’d be with family, and she’d be surrounded by people. Unfortunately, my aunt only survived for about a year and died in early Autumn of 2019. My mom was desperately lonely and sad. Prior to my aunt, she lost my dad, then her partner/friend. She had moved far from me and my kids, and although my cousin is nearly her age and there are other family members where she is – she felt alone. She decided to join PenPalWorld in search of others. She started chatting with a few women, and then one man sent her several messages, hoping to strike up a conversation.

After being contacted seven or eight times, my mom finally answered back. They quickly grew out of using PenPal, instead choosing to text one another. He contacted her several times each day. My mom describes him as being so caring and loving, and she was bowled over by his kindness. In late January, she finally told me about this man (and I still did not know about the previous grant scam) She wanted some happiness, despite my warnings to not trust him – she kept chatting. According to my mom, there were feelings involved. I had a pit in my stomach, but there was very little I could do. I asked her to please not agree to see him without one of my cousins present, to which she agreed, and hoped for the best.

Romance Scams

So, when my mom told me sadly that this man had scammed her and scammed her good, I was irritated at best. Furious, really. The story was that he had been very concerned about the amount of debt my mom was in. Now, I knew some of it because my mom had mentioned that money was tight, and she couldn’t come visit at Christmas. Beyond that, I didn’t ask – but I figured she had gone through her entire savings and was living off of social security along with her small pension. It wasn’t the greatest, but you know, she could make it work, I figured.

So, she went on to tell me that he suggested they invest her money in Bitcoin. He’d invest it, and then get the money along with her profit back to her within two days. Forty-eight hours. What a great plan, right? He assured her all would be fine, and in fact – he had been shopping for a new house in Salisbury, close by where my mom lived. He finally had settled on a house, and wanted to take care of my mom. He had bought it, and was going to drive up from Virginia where he was currently living, sign the paperwork, then pick up my mom and go show her the house. She was overjoyed.

I’m still fuzzy on the numbers – even two days into this nightmare – but apparently my mom wired him her entire social security check. Now, on top of the only cash to her name, he had her account numbers and her routing number. In turn, he texted and assured her everything came through and that he was leaving to come up there. He’d told my mom at a much earlier time he lived in Sanford, Virginia. She didn’t know where that was, but he’d described how horrible the traffic was up to Salisbury. That day – which was last Friday, he kept texting, telling her how he was way behind and eventually texted letting her know he had stopped for the night and that he’d call the next day. She was disappointed, but figured one more night wouldn’t make a difference.

Unbeknownst to my mom, Sanford is literally 1 hour from Salisbury. A single hour.

If only it were the end

The next morning around 10:30, he called to tell her he was sitting out in front of the real estate office and would be by later. She had tried to reach him at some point only to find out that his phone was no longer in service, the email he used and PenPal login were no longer active either. He ghosted her completely, and took all of the money she had for the month, checking account number, and routing numbers right along with him.

I wish that were the end of the story. It would be sad, but manageable. Lessons would have been learned, and we would have stood up, brushed ourselves off and moved on. However, there is more. A lot more, and some of it, I won’t even mention here.

As I’ve mentioned, my father died nearly twelve years ago. At the time of his passing, my parents had a small sum of money saved for retirement. Much to my surprise, my dad also had a life insurance policy that ended up adding a sizable amount to my mom’s savings. My parents never had much as I grew up, extra money wasn’t a thing, and to be honest, my mom wasn’t used to being able to spend money. So, having the savings was likely a little more tempting than it should have been, but she tried…and we tried…to keep her grounded. The money was set to last her until she was about 85 years old, if she watched herself.

David and Goliath (or as I call him, Ron)

As time wore on, my concerns grew. I knew she was spending more than she should, but my mom was very adamant that she didn’t need my sister and I parenting her. Fair enough. We tried to take an interest without being obtrusive. I don’t know that we really accomplished much, but we tried. In the meantime, she met a man in her apartment complex that I’m going to call David. At the time, it seemed innocent enough. They sort of lived together, but not really. He kept his own apartment, even though he’d stay with my mom most every night. He had different habits that always made Walt and I a little curious. He didn’t like using credit cards, hated banks, didn’t really love having his picture taken. We didn’t know much about his background, although my mom seemed to be satisfied with what she knew about his family. Mostly, we chose to leave well enough alone. I still wonder what he was really about.

He passed away in 2016 after having a heart attack. I think having someone else die was hard on my mom, and after that, she became pretty lonely. We didn’t speak quite as often. Some of that was my fault, some of it was my mom’s. Regardless, about a year later someone claiming to be his stepbrother that I’m going to call Ron, came out of the woodwork, long after his property was turned over to the county.

As an aside, my mom and David were never married and she was not listed in his Will, therefore his possessions were not kept by my mom. I don’t mind saying that he had amassed a savings of over $1,000,000 by the time he had died – after working at local utility until he retired (and he retired early to care for his ailing mother, who had died long before he met my mom) and that money went to various charities in whatever Will he had set up. I don’t know where that money came from, and yeah – I wonder about that sometimes, especially now. My sister and I had joked that maybe he’d been in the witness protection program. He was so secretive. I don’t think we’ll ever know the truth, although I suspect we are a little closer to it today than ever before.

US Grant scams

Against my advice, my mom met with Ron, who claimed to be interested in only the health background of his deceased brother. They hadn’t grown up together (he’d claimed to have been adopted out to another family), and to the best of our knowledge, David didn’t even know he’d existed. The story seemed plausible because of the sketchy background that had been shared with us over the years by David. We never had quite enough to put all of the pieces together, and if you’re asking if we thought it was odd, the answer is YES. See the note above about the Witness Protection Program.

My mom told Ron what she knew, but they continued to chat via social media off and on. I suspect my mom felt like Ron was her last tie to David, and again – she’d been lonely. At some point, he told her all about this US grant he’d applied for and received, simply for being elderly. His story was so convincing that even when my mom consulted my sister, who is an attorney – she didn’t believe it when my sister had told her that such a thing didn’t exist. Unbeknownst to my sister and I, my mom applied for that grant, finding out that she would need to pay money to apply. The sums were paltry at first, and at each stage of the process, she was asked for more money, and oddly, within days of each time she had been approached by the people in charge of this grant, Ron would contact her asking how she was doing and how the grant process was going.

After some time – and I’m still trying to discern how long this was, my mom ran out of money to send, her savings completely gone. Even so, the people continued asking her to send phones and gift cards, and by then – after sending $72,000.00 (YES -THAT MUCH MONEY!), my mom realized that the grant was a scam. The unfortunate thing is that in the process, the people doing the scamming also had a mountain of personal information from my mom. Enough to attempt to get into her bank account and steal what was left, and because these scammers used the correct personal information to get the money, her bank believed that my mom was in on it. I found all of this out this morning. It has been a long day.

Red flags don’t pay the bills

Were there red flags? Oh hell yes. All over the place, and had my sister and I been aware of what was going on, primarily the full extent of what was happening, things could have been done. But my mom hid things from us out of embarrassment. There is of course, much more to the story. It seems like each day I’m hearing more and more. There were other times that my mom was almost taken in by scams. One time, “Facebook” was offering her a million dollars prize money. I think the only thing that stopped her from wiring money that time was because by then, she had already been wiped out from the US Grant sham. Additionally, there have been more loans and credit cards, and unfortunately – even a serious tax issue that I am having a phone call with my sister tonight to discuss.

What I am going to say here is important: pay attention! Listen to your aging parents and family members. Watch for signs of desperation and loneliness, those are a lot easier to deal with than the aftermath of scams. My mom was always a super smart cookie. Never once did I ever think, for the life of me, that she’d ever go through something like this. I never thought she’d actually go as far to lie to me about her taxes, or not listen to our warnings about giving out information online. When it came down to it, the lure of making her troubles go away, and maybe even her dreams come true, was far more enticing than the realities of my sister and I telling her that things like that don’t happen. The dreams, however far-fetched, were better.

Words of caution

I know this has nothing to do with Duran Duran, except that the chances of me being able to do future shows is pretty grim. I am going to be very busy sorting this out, and in order to get her out of trouble, it’s going to cost money to hire an attorney that isn’t related to me to help out. I just think that there are so many of us with aging and elderly parents, that it’s pertinent. Don’t assume it can’t happen to you, or that your parents will know better. Trust me, with just the right set of issues: a death of a spouse, friend, or family member, desperation, loneliness, and the wishes to help – it can happen to anyone.

Forgive me for not being able to blog much this week. I’ll do it when I can, and of course – if there’s anyone out there (ha ha ha) that is able and willing to help in my absence, let me know. I would be most grateful. Watch out for your parents and family!!

-R

3 thoughts on “A Cautionary Tale”

  1. I am so sorry for the trouble that your mom has been in. I work in banking and I see it all the time! It is so scary how thieves prey and catch people off guard. I tell my customers do not be embarrassed at all.You are a victim. Just so so sad.

  2. I could tell you so many things about having a lonely parent. My dad is 73 and though he doesn’t do online at all, he was lonely after losing my mom and not thinking straight. Needless to say he was meeting con artist women wanting his money, I was afraid he would marry one of these women then they would scam him even more. I even contacted my brother to convince my dad to write out a will and putting me and my brother in charge of his finances if he starts to be fooled. I am especially aware because in my 20’s I met this guy who seemed nice and into me and once I gave him my credit card and checking information he drained my checking and ran up my credit cards, and it took me years to finally catch up. I hate scammers and I feel so bad for your mom, how horrible there are evil people.

  3. I hope there is a special room in Hell for these people This is a nightmare, and your mom is blessed to have you to help pick up the pieces..

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