Scam artists on the phone

January 17, 2021

One of my local readers recently shared an alarming story with me. Her 85-year-old mother (I’ll call her Mary), who lives alone, was the victim of a scam which nearly cost her $125,000. I’m withholding their names to protect their anonymity. 

Mary got a phone call from her daughter. She was crying and hysterical, and said that she had broken her nose in a car accident, was now in jail, and needed help. 

Mary said the caller began the conversation with “Hey, Mom,” just like her daughter always did, and that through the tears, this person sounded exactly like her own daughter, Liz. The caller said the reason she was in jail was driving while texting.

Next, a second woman got on the phone and explained she was the public defender in Wilmington. She claimed Mary needed to pay for her daughter’s defense and asked if Mary could provide the fee; Mary said of course she would help her daughter. Mary asked why Liz didn’t phone her own husband, and the impersonator said Liz didn’t want her husband to know what happened. “Please don’t tell him,” she said.

After she hung up, a distraught Mary called her brother to explain what happened, and he offered to drive her to the bank.  

On the way there, Mary decided to call her other daughter, Meg, who said, “Mom, this is a scam!” Meg immediately telephoned her sister Liz, who was safe at home. 

“I’m not easily fooled. I taught school for years and have heard all kinds of stories, but I haven’t felt that shaken ever in my life,” Mary said later. “It really sounded exactly like Liz. I couldn’t believe it.”

When she phoned the Delaware State Police, Mary was referred to the fraud department. The spokesperson said that unless money had exchanged hands, there would be no investigation. 

How did the caller know Mary had a daughter and the name of the daughter? That information can be disclosed on social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram, but the family doesn’t actually know the answers to these questions.

Mary wanted everyone to know that she became suspicious when the caller told her not to tell her daughter’s husband. The words, “Don’t tell anyone else” are key to this story. Those words should be suspect. Mary wanted me to share this story because she hopes to prevent anyone else from experiencing this trauma.  

Mary was married for 57 years but lost her husband four years ago. She does have family nearby. I asked Mary how she was faring during the pandemic, and she said that the isolation is hard. She hasn’t been able to see lots of other family, like her two great-grandchildren. She enjoys going to physical therapy for the social interaction.

“What has helped me through life is reading Eckhart Tolle’s book, ‘The Power of Now.’ If something happens that I don’t like, I can’t change it. I must move on. My husband isn’t here, but when he was here, I worried about his health all the time. When we worry all the time, then we are unhappy all the time,” Mary said.

Mary says there are two words she lives by today: acceptance and gratitude. I want to thank her for sharing her wisdom.

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