St. Marys Journal Argus
There have been many sleepless nights recently for a St. Marys native, now living in another Ontario community, after coming to the realization that her aging mother has been sending away her savings to people who are almost certainly preying on her vulnerability.
The daughter believes her widowed mother, after discovering the freedom of handling her own financial affairs after decades of married life, has become addicted to the adrenalin thrill provided by scam artists.
Just as troubling for the woman, who asked that neither she nor her mother or other family members be identified, is a failure to act by a number of people in St. Marys who either knew or should have known about the addiction problem.
“I understand that people have privacy issues that they have to be concerned about,” the daughter told the Journal Argus recently, “but I also think that a lot of people have dropped the ball. And I’m very disappointed that, in a town (the size of St. Marys), something like this has been allowed to happen.”
Most recently, the elderly St. Marys resident has become convinced that she is the winner of an Australian-based lottery — and she will be able to claim her prize if only she sends money. After she revealed her communications with the lottery in a conversation with a family member, an intervention was attempted. But even a visit by an officer with the Perth County Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) resulted only in a polite conversation.
OPP Community Services Officer, Constable Kees Wijnands, confirmed in an interview with the Journal Argus that the recent visit took place. He also confirmed, however, that although there was considerable pleading on behalf of the police officer as well as family members who were present for the visit, the visit did not result in anyone convincing the elderly woman that the lottery is a scam.
When the daughter of the St. Marys resident contacted the Journal Argus last month, she described being at a standstill on how to proceed, since her mother has not been diagnosed with any form of dementia, and has not granted any family member the responsibility of managing her financial affairs.
The daughter has spoken with the woman’s lawyer and doctor, and even her hairdresser. She says all of them admitted in private conversation that they believed her mother was being unwise with her money.
Indeed, it was through the hairdresser that the daughter believes she was eventually able to formulate the clearest picture of all regarding the depth to which her mother had sunk.
She holds much less goodwill for the doctor and lawyer. Both of them, she concedes, must abide by strict confidentiality rules. And they’re both bound, she agrees, by the fact that the mother’s mental capabilities are intact, and she has not signed over any authority for her affairs.
The daughter argues, however, that such rules weren’t written with a small community like St. Marys in mind. She believes places like St. Marys, where the stereotype is so often true about neighbours looking out for neighbours, should be able to rise above the kinds of rules that she believes ultimately trapped her mother.
Speaking after weeks of attempted interventions by relatives both near and far, the woman’s frustration is clearly evident. She relates how she pleaded with the family doctor to give her mother a referral for a mental health expert so she could be diagnosed for an addiction to gambling. And she tells of pleading with the lawyer to find some way to have the power of attorney documentation updated so family members could limit her mother’s transactions.
“I feel like we were asking for help and we were getting doors slammed in our faces,” she related.
Without the mother’s consent in either case, however, those actions can’t take place.
The problems began, the daughter says, after her father (and the woman’s husband of many years) passed away about six years ago. Her mother told her children that her husband had always controlled the money in the household; now, it was her turn.
There were, family members believed, ample savings for their mother to live in St. Marys in comfort — maybe even with some luxuries.
They were perplexed, the daughter recalled, when one of the luxuries she decided to spend money on was what the daughter describes as “trinkets,” supposedly supplied by psychics from far-flung locales.
Family members questioned her about the value being provided by these purchases, but she insisted she could do what she wanted with her money. “It was $50, or $60, or $70 every time, and that starts to add up,” her daughter explained.
At the time, however, the family members weren’t aware of the degree to which these psychic trinkets were the visible tip of what would one day be revealed as a very large iceberg. They didn’t realize that the arrival of these items by mail revealed that their mother’s address and phone number were now being passed around from one player to another in a many-tentacled, global, underground economy.
From there, she moved in to transactions that are either similar to or exactly like deals that have been identified by the OPP and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre as scams.
“My mom is 84 years old and lonely — two factors that made her the perfect victim,” the daughter suggested to the Journal Argus.
A major factor, explains Wijnands, is that the original scammers — once they were successful in extracting some money from the victim — almost certainly sold the woman’s contact information to other potential scammers. He called it “a sucker list,” and said it’s all part of the business model cooked up by the crooks to keep the money rolling in.
So, in effect, saying yes to one scammer creates a higher likelihood that more scammers will soon call.
And so it was, quite likely, that the elderly mother picked up the phone one day and heard someone at the other end of the line claiming to be from the Australian lottery.
“Seniors are particularly susceptible to fraud schemes because their generation tends to be more trusting and less likely to end conversations,” advises the website of the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. “Fraudulent telemarketers build relationships with seniors and gain their trust before victimizing them.”
In this case, of course, the person answering the phone still maintains that she’s not being victimized. Nothing her family members, nor a police officer nor her hairdresser, can say will sway her.
Speaking to the Journal Argus, the distraught daughter reluctantly admits that, perhaps, even if the doctor or lawyer had tried to step around rules of confidentiality and made some sort of intervention, they too might have been rebuffed by the mother.
It’s her life, her savings, and she’s going to do with it what she wants.
The daughter is fully aware that there’s legislation in place, aimed at preventing so-called “senior abuse,” keeping family members from taking over control of the finances of elderly relatives. She wishes there was some way for family members to step in if they suspect an addiction to gambling but, before going through a lengthy process of referral and diagnosis, there’s nothing they can do.
“Why did we have to find out now, when maybe everything is gone?”
Reluctantly, the daughter admits that it might be too late for her mother. She only hopes that there’s still enough savings to keep her mother in comfort until she can eventually be convinced to hand over power of attorney, or she can eventually be diagnosed with a gambling addiction.
And the daughter hopes, as well, that people whose elderly parents might be at risk of a similar addiction might be able to see the signs more quickly, and begin the discussion about intervention much earlier in the process.