This is a true story.
Up to now my reaction to learning about another victim of an obvious scam was how someone can be so gullible. Then I learned about what is happening to the mother of a friend of ours. Her story changed my thinking.
The Scam: Part 1
One day out of the blue Rita (our victim) receives a phone call from Richard who has incredible news! Rita has won $2.2 million and a Mercedes from the Mega Millions lottery. (Rita of course hadn’t entered any lotteries but she ignores that red flag.) Richard sets the hook and Rita takes the bait.
Richard begins the process of striking up a personal relationship in order to gain trust. He calls 2 to 3 times a day. Richard volunteers that he is a 73 year old widower who lost his wife 20 years ago who, would you believe, was also named Rita? It takes 2 weeks before Richard finally gets around to “the ask”: “I need you send $200 to cover processing fees”. Rita complies and sends Richard $200 using a Walmart to Walmart money transfer.
Richard calls frequently, continuing to shower attention on her. Rita, for her part, believes it’s the start of a genuine relationship. Eventually Richard ups the ante. He instructs Rita to insert $10,000 into the pages of a book and send it to him. The $10k is needed to pay taxes associated with her winnings. Richard tells her that she actually owes more and acknowledges that it is a lot of money. To help her out, Richard says that he’s going to pay the other half of the taxes and she can repay him out of her winnings. In order to come up with the cash, Rita sells some stock. But in a weird, last minute change of heart, Rita decides to only send him $9,000. (Richard receives $8,900 because FedEx charged $100.) Richard continues to call and questions why Rita only sent $8,900.
The Intervention: Part 1
It’s at this point that family members catch wind of what’s happening. They call Rita to warn her that she is being scammed. Rita’s response is that she is about to become very wealthy and asks them to take no action until the Monday following Mothers’ Day which is when she expects to receive her prizes.
Then a niece of Rita’s makes a shocking discovery. Richard is actually planning to visit Rita on Friday! The niece calls Rita to warn her that she is being scammed. Rita replies: “If you mess this up for me I will never speak to you again.” The niece calls one of Rita’s sons, Tom (the one we know). Tom visits his mother to discuss what’s going on. Rita refuses to accept that she is being scammed. Tom calls the police who come out and have a long talk with her. She seems to get it.
On the appointed Friday Richard calls because Rita had cancelled the in-person visit because the timing was “not good”. Unbeknownst to Rita and Richard is that Tom is listening in to their conversation. Tom actually hears Richard making “kissy” sounds to his mother! Yuk! Rita tells Richard that her son is at her house and that he thinks it is a scam. Richard asks her to call after her son leaves. Before Tom leaves he disconnects her land line by taking the cords. But Rita still has her cell phone which she uses to call Richard back. When Tom updates his sister, she cancels Rita’s cell phone service (which is in the daughter’s name). The family gets Rita a new land line with an unlisted number which she promptly gives to Richard (she had memorized his number).
The Scam: Part 2
Richard is far from done in large part because Rita is not done. Rita receives a brochure in her mailbox about her winnings. Richard calls to verify that she received it. (Note: the police do not believe that Richard lives in a near-by town as he claims. They believe that the scammers use runners to do mail drops.) Richard calls twice a day. Rita believes that their relationship has become a romance. Then Richard calls with more great news! Rita’s cash winnings have now increased to $5.5 million and he sends a photo of her check to prove it. Richard informs Rita that more money is needed to pay for the increased taxes associated with her larger winnings. Rita sends $800.
Richard continues to up the ante. He mails notification that her winnings now total $10 million along with the key to her new Mercedes. Richard calls and asks for $40,000. Rita demurs so Richard lowers the amount to “just” $10,000. He suggests that Rita borrow from her neighbors to help come up with the $10,000. Rita balks at the $10k but offers to send $300. Richard expresses concern and says that he needs to check with his supervisor to get permission to accept the $300. Surprise! The supervisor gives permission to receive the $300. During this call, Rita’s son is with her imploring her not to do it. Rita goes to Walmart and transfers the $300.
The Intervention: Part 2
The family comes to the conclusion that they have to take more stringent action to protect Rita from herself. It turns out that Tom’s son Rick is an attorney. They have him draft up a trust document that places the majority of Rita’s assets under the control of her three children.
Tom takes the documents to Rita to review and sign. Rita says that she might sign if she doesn’t receive her prize money and Mercedes by the end of the day. Tom takes her to dinner to relax her and get her out of her environment. Of course Rita receives neither the money nor the Mercedes. Mercifully she signs. (As a backup plan, Tom was prepared to take the matter to probate court to force conservatorship.)
The trust is set up in a way that gives her three children control over Rita’s assets except for her checking account where her monthly Social Security check is deposited. The family feels that this arrangement protects the vast majority of Rita’s assets and allows her to maintain some dignity. However, they fully expect Rita to continue to send money to Richard but at least he shouldn’t be able to bankrupt her (we hope).
There’s something more going on than just someone getting fooled. Rita is engaged in a form of self-destructive behavior that is akin to a gambling addiction or alcoholism. She is in denial and seemingly powerless to stop even when presented with evidence that she’s being scammed. She has become dependent on her “relationship” with Richard.
I am totally disgusted by Richard and people who prey on vulnerable people. They are well practiced and merciless. They won’t stop until they have drained every dollar they can.
This story begs the question of what makes someone a potential victim. Here are my thoughts. They may be:
- Isolated and or lonely
- Suffer from depression
- On medication that has a side effect of confusion
- Showing signs of memory loss and/or confusion
- Not in touch with technology or current events
If you are concerned about someone you know, here are a few things to consider.
- Communicate with the person daily. Find out who else they are talking with.
- Create a checklist of do’s and don’ts for answering a call from someone they don’t know. Rehearse and practice.
- If a suspicious person has made contact, change the phone numbers.
- Monitor their health including speaking with their doctors and keeping track of the medications they take and their side effects.
- Take control of bank accounts. Set up the checking account as a joint account and require that any money transfers require two-step authentication.
- Speak with an elder law attorney to express concerns, learn about options and how to set up a trust.
- If you suspect that a scammer has established contact, notify the police.
Writing this story really upset me. I despise people like Richard and want to see them stopped. However, that is highly unlikely. There’s too much money to be made with very little risk. The next best option is to protect the vulnerable as best we can. I will pass along any updates I receive from Rita and Richard. I hope I don’t get any, but neither I nor the family is optimistic that we’ve seen the last of that evil bastard.
Please share this cautionary tale. Thank you.
Here’s a link to a related article. The FBI’s Secret Weapon Against Romance and Lottery Scammers