A Catholic Monthly Magazine

A Grandparent Scam

by Anne Kerrigan Artwork by Felicity Ann Nettles

Many of these illegal calls originate from overseas criminal rings, and they tend to target the elderly (GASP!) and recent immigrants because both are deemed more receptive to the come-ons. The scammers find people to target by consulting phone directories and mailing lists, including what is called a ‘sucker list’, which is a database of individuals believed to be susceptible to fraud.

Consumer Reports, May 2019.

Over the past year, I have been inundated with robocalls, as well as ‘people’ calls, asking me if I need certain Medicare equipment such as a scooter or a back brace. If I do, just call their 800 number and arrangements will be made for the delivery of those items, all covered by Medicare! I have also been told I won a Caribbean cruise as well as a week in Florida. All the caller needs is my credit card number and I can pick my date for these specific vacations. I have won so many vacations that I have lost count. I have also won storm windows, solar panels, and a new patio set. On and on it goes. Usually, this caller doesn’t manage to get even a few words out before I hang up. At this point, I consider myself pretty adept when it comes to identifying these scam calls, and I recognize them almost immediately. In fact, now I seldom answer the phone unless the caller ID shows me a telephone number I recognise. Yet, the calls continue! Last week, my home phone voice mail indicated that I had fifteen messages. I dutifully had pen in hand as I started to listen. At the end of the messages, only two calls were actually meaningful. In fact, the two significant calls were to remind me that I had dental and MD appointments within the next few days. So, in actuality, they were all robocalls! The onslaught continues.

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) has stated that scams on the senior population have drastically increased, and that targeting seniors has become so prevalent that these scams are now considered ‘the crime of the 21st century’. The con artists are aware that many of today’s seniors grew up in the 40s and 50s and were raised to be polite and trusting. The scammers then exploit these traits while conning millions and millions of dollars from unsuspecting seniors. The NCOA considers the scams against grandparents one of the top ten scams, which means I must be on one of those above mentioned ‘sucker lists’.

I have always considered myself rather astute when it comes to these many scams, so I just knew that I would never be caught in that snare. I wondered how so many seniors could fall for these robocalls, including the smooth-tongued salesmen! I really couldn’t imagine such naiveté, but I was in for a surprise.

It was March 2019 about 7:30 in the evening and the phone rang. Now, anyone who knows me is aware that there are to be no calls after 7 p.m., but I took a quick look at the caller ID anyway. It was a familiar area code, the one associated with my son and two grandsons who live in upstate New York. Even though I did not recognise the telephone number itself, that did not concern me because I am not familiar with all their cell phone numbers. In today’s world, all the telephone numbers are in my own cell phone, and I hardly know anyone’s number! But, since I did recognise the area code, I answered the call.

“Hi grandma. I’m in a bit of trouble. I had a car accident and I just got out of the hospital. They kept me overnight for observation. I broke my nose. Please don’t tell my dad. Keep it between us”.

That should have alerted me immediately to the fact that this could be a scam; my immediate reaction, though, was concern for my grandson. But, which grandson? I realized that I wasn’t even sure who I was talking to. “Is this Liam?” The response was a quick “Yes”. Panic and worry set in. I hope he was all right. OMG!! I have to say that I was very surprised it was Liam, or even Danny. They are fine young men and not given to such behaviour. Actually, it didn’t even sound like either one of them, but I was obviously becoming caught in the snare of this scam. At that time, I thought the cell phone reception might be bad and was distorting the voices. Still no red flags. Not even a suspicion that anything was amiss. Maybe I belong on that sucker list!

“Grandma,” the caller continued.  Again, ‘Liam’ pleaded. “Please don’t tell dad. I’ll be in trouble”. Still no bells going off in my head that this is a scam, but now comes the fun part. “Grandma, I have to tell you that there was alcohol involved in this accident. I had been drinking”.

That was all I needed. Some personal history might be helpful here. I hate alcohol. Alcohol has been present in my family since I was a young child and no good ever came from it. My father’s alcoholism has deeply affected me, and it pains me to this day. As the result of personal work, I have tried to understand the issues and I have forgiven him. He was a wonderful, funny, smart man and I have always loved him but his alcoholism pained me. I have also seen alcohol impact many people over the course of my life, and it is so painful to witness. I have never had a drink in my life, and I am sure Freud would have fun exploring that behaviour! In my biased, and probably sometimes irrational opinion, no good ever comes from alcohol! So, when ‘Liam’ started telling me that his drinking might have caused this crash, I went, as they say, ballistic.

“WHAT! Are you out of your mind? You deserve everything coming to you! You idiot! What were you thinking?” 

On and on I went. Yada, yada, yada. Any sympathy I might have felt about a car accident and a broken nose went flying out the window. Compassion went with it. In its place was red hot anger and frustration about any of my grandsons being implicated in a car accident involving alcohol! I suddenly heard a loud click. Had I been cut off or did the caller just hang up? In retrospect, I gathered that the scammer just figured to himself that this grandma was not going to be a sympathetic soft touch, and he might as well just save his time and go on to the next person. He was right. That scammer most certainly picked up on my sentiments and he just abandoned any efforts to scam this grandma out of her hard earned money, especially when alcohol was involved! I was not going to be a sympathetic soft touch. There would be no bail money from me, and no checks to cover ER costs.

But, I was still not sure what had just happened. I immediately texted Liam.

“Is your nose broken?” “No”, he answered. I then asked if Danny’s nose was broken. “I'll check”, said Liam. A few minutes later, I get another text from Liam:  “Danny’s nose is not broken”.

WHEW. Thank God, they are all right. I love them to the moon and back, and that call scared me. Then, it really hit me. I internalised that I had been scammed. I had just become a statistic. I really was on the ‘sucker list’. I felt like a gullible grandma for even getting so far into the conversation with that scammer. Then again, how did that scammer know I was a grandma with two grandsons at that area code? Scary. My friends, be careful out there!

I also learned (again!) that an alcoholic parent has the ability to deeply impact a child. A few years at Adult Child of Alcoholics (ACOA) meetings have helped me to deal with the issues involved, but they remain deeply embedded in my psyche. As I have learned, on occasion those old wounds arise. I am a work in progress and God isn’t finished with me yet. St Paul reminds us in his letter to the Philippians (1:6) that “The One who began this good work in you will see it finished”. The challenge for personal growth never ceases.

By the way, this essay is an attempt to explain to the real Liam why I kept asking him about broken noses!   

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are wolves.

Matthew 7:15

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