A recent invitation to speak about fraud to the Senior Citizen Computer Club of Clinton County really hit home.
In 1992, shortly after my father died, my mother was the victim of fraudulent telemarketers — criminals at the other end of the phone.
Those kinds of frauds still exist, as well as many scams on the Internet.
My mother was smart, educated and well-traveled. But she was tricked and lied to by friendly callers sounding eager to help her win big prizes.
To increase her chances of winning, she bought dozens of pens, baseball caps saying “No to Drugs,” money clips and other useless items. This happened over and over, and she never won a thing.
Mom didn’t tell anyone what was happening, and she tried to stop.
But when she said she couldn’t spend any more, they said she had investments to liquidate. It frightened her to think they knew about her finances, and she gave in.
After almost a year, her apartment in Texas was filled with what she had ordered, and the calls were increasing.
She felt desperate. For our Christmas presents, she filled 19 shoe boxes with the stuff. Each of her seven children, her grandchildren and her sister and brother all got the same junk.
We thought she was crazy. That’s how she began to let her secret out.
PREVENTION IS KEY
The thieves came into Mom’s home through the telephone; now, it is more likely done through the Internet.
Much more information is available for consumers now than there was 20 years ago, easier ways to file complaints. And police and prosecutors have more experience with these kinds of cases.
Still, successful prosecution and restitution are rare.
Education and prevention are the keys.
The criminals are trained to come across as legitimate and trustworthy. Their goal is to get your money.
They want you to write a check, authorize a credit-card purchase or provide your Social Security number or bank-account information.
You may not even think you are making a purchase, but once they get your personal or account information, they can use it to make unauthorized expenditures and maybe even steal your identity.
If this is happening to you, you probably feel like my mom did: foolish and embarrassed.
You want to keep it a secret because you are ashamed. The criminals count on that.
Like my mom, you want very much to believe it is real, that you will win that big prize. Most of the time, it is not real, and they will keep taking from you. Most of the time, you will not be able to end it on your own.
But by telling someone, you can make it stop — and you can end the power held by the criminal.
If you are a concerned relative or friend, go to the websites provided with this column to learn about the types of frauds so you can ask questions to try to find out what is going on.
Please be careful, though, not to cross-examine your relative or be judgmental. “How could you be so stupid,” should not come out of your mouth or show on your face.
The person is a victim who has been lied to, manipulated and deceived. He or she may not even realize it yet or still be in the “I hope it is true stage.”
Or the person may realize he or she was taken advantage of and want desperately to stop it.
If, like my mom, repeated authorizations are sought, help the person stop them. Contact the banks and credit-card companies and tell them that the charges are fraudulent. Change the account numbers.
Report to local law enforcement and the state attorney general, but do not have high hopes that they can get the money back. It is still worth doing because they might be able to stop the person from victimizing others.
The police and attorney general may be able to work with other states and localities that are investigating the same person or company.
Make notes about what you remember — the names used, what the people said, the amounts spent and what was promised. If happened online, keep and print out copies of messages and payments.
The more specifics you can give them, the better.
RESOURCES TO FIGHT FRAUD
Internet Crime Complaint Center: http://tinyurl.com/kkjyg National Consumers League: http://tinyurl.com/nlup3fb The U.S. Department of Justice: http://tinyurl.com/olb63fg The Federal Bureau of Investigation: http://tinyurl.com/ojhrh5j
TO FILE A COMPLAINT
Internet Crime Complaint Center: http://tinyurl.com/6yzpqe USA.Gov: http://tinyurl.com/nbrw5ka
Direct Marketing Association (to remove your name from lists): http://tinyurl.com/qyto9sb
National Do Not Call Registry: http://www.donotcall.gov National Consumers League: http://tinyurl.com/nv9rn3c