Con artist exploits a grandmother’s love of family

I never thought it would happen to my loved ones.

How many times have you said that as you hear about financial scams that happen to others? I’m an attorney who represents consumers and their attorneys in the Capitol. When it came to scams against the elderly, I thought my 86-year-old mom was well prepared.

I spoke to her about how the scams occur, and since my mom is of very sound mind and lives independently, I thought we were safe.

What I didn’t know and had underestimated was how easy it is for con artists to exploit a person’s love for family and defraud a very aware elder.

As we get older, we worry more about our children and grandchildren. Criminal predators prey on that concern.

In our case, my mom received a telephone call from a sobbing young woman. After several moments of confusion, my mom began wondering if this was one of her granddaughters.

“Is this Kelsey?” she inquired. The caller stopped her weeping long enough to answer yes, that she had been arrested, was embarrassed and did not want anyone to know.

The con job continued. Someone masquerading as a police officer got on the line, telling my mom she needed to post $3,000 in bail or “Kelsey” would go to jail.

My mom was absolutely convinced. She gave them more information about my daughter such as her full name. She rushed to follow instructions to withdraw $3,000 and meet the “police officer” at a local Safeway.

The only reason the scam was foiled was because my mom needed directions to the Safeway.

She called my brother for help. My brother called my daughter to check. The real Kelsey told him, no, she was not in jail and was fine.

Very scary on so many fronts.

If my mother had driven to the Safeway with the $3,000 by herself without telling anyone, as she intended to do, we can assume the scammers would probably have not stopped there, either by coercion or force or worse.

Even though the plot was foiled, it destroyed my mother’s sense of independence. She felt guilty and embarrassed – a common reaction that allows these scams to continue because many of our elderly do not want others to know that they fell for a scam.

The police in the central California community where my mom lives were uninterested and did not take a report, saying that until money was exchanged, there was nothing they could do.

We need to ring the bell more so our parents will be protected. According to some estimates, seniors account for 30 percent of all financial fraud. Consumer groups have tips to avoid getting ripped off. Be suspicious if you hear that you’ve won a prize or free gift; that you must act immediately, or pay for shipping your “free” gift. Definitely don’t provide your credit card information.

To guard against the kind of crime aimed at my mother, ask a question that only your grandchild would know, such as the name of your pet. Never give money to a stranger, particularly when you are asked to “keep it secret.”

My family and I felt vulnerable after this happened, and incredibly angry at the scummy and despicable people who would take advantage of a grandmother’s love of her family.

We were frustrated by police who had no interest in assisting, despite their claim to “provide the highest level of service to our citizens.” Let’s take it upon ourselves to act. Scammers are professionals. Let’s spread the word to keep this from happening to others.

Nancy Peverini is legislative director for the Consumer Attorneys of California.