Tuesday, July 31, 2018
In a recent issue of The New Yorker is staff writer David Owens' detailed account of his mother's entanglement with scammers. It is a tale all too familiar to any of us who have represented families in trying to stop such scams (much less recover money). At each level of law enforcement, he and his sister encounter experienced professionals who were fully familiar with such scams, but who simply weren't eager to pursue an investigation of another such case. You can feel the sense of their hopelessness about such a mission.
David's mother, living in Kansas, was a victim, via internet and telephone calls from a scammer who was working out of a base in California (or beyond). While the son and daughter were able to put an end to some of the scamming behavior by putting holds on financial accounts and taking over the checkbook, they were stunned when their mother avoided this intercept by simply traveling to another branch of the bank and accessing money from the "frozen" account in order to mail it off to her buddy "Sam."
All of this feels especially sad and familiar to me. Not just from the experience with clients we had in our Elder Law Clinic at Dickinson Law, but from my own mother's experience with a predatory former homecare worker. Even though we showed Mom the clear evidence of his particular con game (asking for two or more paychecks each week, calling one an advance, knowing she would not remember any such advance the next week; his pay doubled, then tripled in the course of 6 months), and even though she accepted he had to be discharged because he couldn't or wouldn't stop the con, he still managed to get her to meet him, in her bathrobe at the crack of dawn, in the alley behind her house to hand him more cash. It was another "advance."
In David Owens' story, My Mother and Her Scammer, his aging mother was lonely. So too was my mother; "helping" the conman made her feel like she was important and needed. But in both instances, our mothers' misplaced trust is a sign of reduced executive function in the brain, with the hallmark inability to appreciate risk. Plus, in both instances the conman knows exactly how to play his mark.
My thanks to Karen Miller, Esq., in Florida for sending me this well-written (and frustrating) tale.