(Mommy’s money = Your Inheritance)

Don’t think for a second your mother, or grandmother, is not at risk. She is. Recently, there has been a lot of attention focused on various groups of con artists who target elderly Americans. It’s a lucrative business. One of my own relatives got taken in by one of these scams just last week. I’ll share her story in a moment.

Let’s suppose your mother, or grandmother, is a widow and lives alone. She’s independent and enjoys a comfortable lifestyle. Like many in her position, she’s lonely and turns to the Internet to cultivate some male relationships. She is a perfect “mark” for a certain group of slimy con artists who don’t want her, but do want her money. Too often, they get it.

The first confidence scheme occurred at least six millennia ago in the Garden of Eden. There, the serpent enticed Eve to eat the fruit. He conned her. We are all still suffering from that one.

Today, with the Internet, Ipads, Iphones, Tablets, and the like, the danger of getting taken by malicious schemers lurks large. Every phone call, letter, email, text, or knock on the door may be the hook that leads the unwary into a con scheme.

Ever heard of the Jamaican Switch, Three-Card Monty, or the Pigeon Drop? All of these are old confidence schemes that still work today. Then, there are the Spanish Prisoner, Pig-In-A Poke, Glim Dropper, Recovery Room, Rip Deal, and dozens more. If you want to learn more, for a quick look, read Wikipedia’s list of Confidence Games here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_confidence_tricks

There are always some new twists to old cons. Many retooled schemes are currently being employed all over and especially in America. Dr. Phil recently reported on one of these new schemes, one that targets older single women. This is the very one that my relative fell for. In order to protect her identity, we will call her Joan.

What is interesting is that it was soon after Dr. Phil’s program aired that the con artist first approached Joan via Facebook. She was lonely and certainly enjoyed the attention she received from this new friend.

Joan is a widow and lives alone on the west coast. The man she met on Facebook, she thought, was a wealthy engineer named Joe, who worked on an oilrig in the North Sea. He was allegedly widowed, 55 years old, with an 8-year-old son. Joan will soon turn 70. This age difference was the first clue that something was not right. Most men Joe’s age are looking for women in their 40s or even younger.

There was something else that disturbed me. Joe’s picture on Facebook looked like a man in his mid to late 40’s. This was another piece of the puzzle that didn’t add up. Finally, I discovered that his picture was on the Internet under two different names. This was the clincher. I knew then for sure this was a confidence scheme. Joan needed to be warned.

My wife and I, along with some of Joan’s other relatives and friends, told her that we were convinced that Joe was a scammer. This was not well received. She angrily dismissed that idea and defended the man. She was already emotionally involved.

To help her prepare for what we knew was coming next, we told her he would soon ask her for money. She assured us that he would not. She still wouldn’t listen. “He cares for me,” She said. “He would never ask me for money. He even prays with me.”

The reveal came sooner than we thought. Just a few days later Joe asked her for $4500.00. Even though Joe was supposedly well off, there was some reason he couldn’t access his funds quickly enough while on the oilrig. He just needed a loan for a short time until he could access his funds.

Joe claimed that his boy suffered from a kidney disorder and had to have surgery right away or he might die. He wanted Joan to hand deliver the money to a nanny in a nearby city who was certainly his partner in crime.

Finally, when he asked for the money reality hit her and she broke off the relationship and defriended him on Facebook. She was devastated over the betrayal. But, unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story.

Within a week, an Army soldier contacted Joan on Facebook. His name was Dan. He told her that he was in military intelligence and stationed in Afghanistan. He said that he knew about Joe who had tried to swindle her. He assured her that Joe would soon be behind bars.

Dan consoled Joan and appeared to be someone genuinely concerned for her. He said he was a Christian and wanted to help. My first thought was, “This is the same guy.” Either Dan is Joe or an accomplice of Joe’s. Actually, these particular cons are not that good. They made too many amateur mistakes, some of which I’ve already mentioned.

I began to ask myself some questions. How did Dan even know about Joe? How would a military man in Afghanistan know about a civilian working on an oil rig in the North Sea? Also, anyone in military intelligence would never disclose his or her location, especially while in a war zone. But he had revealed to Joan, upfront, that he was stationed in Kabul and currently deployed to a dangerous area.

When I checked the photo of Dan on Facebook it didn’t match his claims. He said he was a lieutenant in the Army, but his Facebook photo showed him as a staff sergeant. In another place he described himself as a captain. Also, his stated age was much older than the man in the photo. This was the same disparity we discovered about Joe. Dan, however, had two Facebook accounts each with only a handful of friends, all women, and little info about himself.

Not long afterwards, we found out that Joan had already sent Dan $200. And, that this wasn’t the first time she had sent him money. How he had convinced her to send him money, we don’t know. This time, finally, Joan truly understood what was happening. The money she sent was gone forever. Fortunately, she didn’t lose that much, but she also suffered emotionally.

Remember, the next Joan could be your mother or grandmother. She might not get out so easily or so cheaply. The scammers might get your inheritance too. They don’t call them “confidence men” for nothing. They are good, really good at what they do. I hope Joan’s story will help you protect your loved ones, especially mom.

Let me share one other true story before I close. Someone I knew well succumbed to the legendary Pigeon Drop scheme. The Pigeon Drop is one of the oldest and yet most successful cons of all time. Australia’s honest con man’s Encyclopedia of Scams defines the Pigeon Drop this way:

The con artist offers the victim a large sum of money. In order to get this larger sum of money, they must risk a small amount of their own. The large amount of money and the victim’s money are placed somewhere such as a safe deposit box, a money bag or a hankie, for safekeeping switched for something worthless.

Here is how Mille, a friend of mine’s elderly mom, got involved with some con artists and lost a lot of money.

Millie parked at a local strip mall in Atlanta. As she walked toward one of the stores a lady approached her with a paper bag. The lady, dressed as a nurse, said she saw the bag on the ground near Millie and thought she may have dropped it. Millie said she didn’t know what it was or whose it was. Together, they looked inside the bag. It appeared to be a large amount of cash. The nurse appeared to count it and said it was $100,000.

Now very excited, the nurse asked Millie’s advice as to what they should do. Millie confessed that she didn’t know. The nurse appeared to have a sudden brilliant thought, and claimed to know of an attorney nearby who could advise them. So, Millie and the nurse went to see him. What do you know? He was in his office and all alone.

The man, a key player in the scheme, posing as an attorney, presented the two ladies with some great news. He said that if each of them would put up a deposit to show good faith, they could legally claim the money and split it between them. That would be $50,000 each. They both quickly agreed. Of course, only Millie put up any real money.

Millie said she could only invest $9,000.00. She went to the bank to withdraw the money. While she was cashing out, the con team wrapped a few real bills around some dollar shaped paper and put it in a bank deposit bag.