My parents are, for the most part, affable, chatty, social people. My dad moreso than my mom. Dad was in marketing for years and he loved chatting with people. I remember cringing as a teenager when he would pick up conversations with strangers in shops or gas stations…insert audible eye-rolling and frustrated moans… and then when I became a parent I realized that I did the same thing, and now sometimes annoy my own children…insert audible eye-rolling and frustrated moans…in the exact same way.
Dad was and is genuine in his interest about the other person’s well being, and loved hearing stories. He loved and loves telling stories as well. He always treated people with kindness and respect, even if they were being total jerks. He always felt that you should take the highroad and give people the benefit of the doubt.
As his life became more and more sedentary, there were less and less opportunities to chat with people outside of the house. Email was a salvation in many ways and he was proud of his ability to negotiate the web. The phone also became a really easy way for him to chat with people without leaving home.
It was all peachy until we found out that some of his personal information had been compromised, and he was being targeted for several scams.
It started innocently enough. The phone would ring and someone was doing a sales call for some medical something-r-nother. Dad, we later found out, had given out his phone number on some mail in form or contest or internet giveaway and didn’t realize that he had just opened Pandora’s box. The salesperson was “a nice enough person” and seemed genuinely interested in Dad’s well being and soon dad was being snookered into receiving more and more offers and coupons and more phone calls.
But the real trouble began when the calls from the Bahamas started.
Somehow he got tangled up in a situation where a call would come from the Bahamas and they would leave a message saying that he had won a prize. Dad would return the call. The person on the other line would tell my dad that he had won a big prize and that he needed to go to the local Walmart with his credit cards to pick it up. Meanwhile, a HUGE bill was accumulating (in some cases several thousand dollars) because by returning this call, somehow, his phone line had been compromised and was now being used to help someone else make other calls. This same phenomenon would happen when he would pick up an incoming call: the charges would be reversed (without him being asked for that to happen) and the bill would soar.
It took a while for us, his kids, to realize that a) these call charges were happening and b) dad was having these strange conversations with people in the Bahamas. Dad would forget about them until the mega phone bills would come in.. But once his kids were alerted to this scam, we then had to teach dad about screening his calls…and that became a challenge.
Welcome to the 809 Area Code Scam
Mom and Dad have caller ID on their phone, to be sure, but in order to use it 1) you have to find the damn phone, 2) you have to have your glasses on, 3) you have to find the list with the area codes that you DON’T take calls from…. Aw heck just answer the phone, it might be important…and it starts again.
And that is just the phone. Suffice it to say he got himself (and his credit card) into a whole mess of trouble when signing up for some online contests via the internet. We have sorted that out and the good news is that a lot of credit catd companies are now wise to this phenomenon with the elderly and pardon those debts.
But what happens to the elderly folks out there who -don’t- have kids watching over them and sifting through their bills? How much of this is going on invisibly without our Moms and Dads knowing? Moments like this make you wonder, and also make you very sad as well.