As we get older, we increasingly find out that we have to be prepared for the duty of taking care of our parents. For some, that turns into the more serious stuff like providing health care, finding retirement homes and managing life insurance. Then there’s the adulting stuff like using your one week of vacation to help move your parents out of your childhood home into their new retirement condo and arguing with your siblings on who’s gonna clean out the basement (which 30 years later still has your hope chest, high-school trophies and letters to Reggie Hooks down there). And then there’s the surprise scary stuff, like freaking out when your parents get scammed.
My mom is not the most computer savvy. She can fix a leak on the roof, she can change a tire, she can landscape an entire backyard and she can sniff out a mid-century modern couch at St. Vinny’s (St. Vincent de Paul’s) from the front door. What she can’t do is be trusted on the computer. As she says, “You push the wrong thing and whammo!”
Mom has pushed the wrong thing so many times; one of which included her clicking on some spam thing that purposely infected her computer with a virus that could conveniently be fixed by calling a guy in India, paying $200, giving them access to her computer and not getting anything fixed, except her face into a permanent grimace.
My mom retired a few years ago; I was living with her at the time as my own life was in upheaval. Post retirement, like literally the day after she gave back her keys to the front door where she worked, she was all worked up about not having insurance. I haven’t had insurance for years. (I know, there’s a problem with this, but that was my life). So I was like, “Ma, it can wait; we’ll get it figured out. Hold your horses!”
We had that horse-holding conversation as we went to bed; in the morning, all hell broke loose.
My mom isn’t old, but she’s got that grandma habit of waking up at 5:30 am. This may have also been a holdover from her work schedule habits. I woke up to the familiar sound of her grinding the coffee beans super early. I rolled over for another round of z’s before rising for our normal morning ritual, and our nice mother-daughter time where we share a cuppa Joe in our white vintage coffee cups before getting on with our day. After a few leisurely sips, around 7:30 am, I said, “Are you ready to research insurance?”
“Oh. I’ve already taken care of it. I signed up!” she smiled proudly.
“What?” I said, putting down my coffee cup.
“I signed up.”
“How?!” It was too early for anyone anywhere to really be answering a phone and how could it happen so quickly to just sign up?! Although I didn’t have insurance, I knew that much.
“I Googled ‘Obama Care’ and signed up….”
My head spun on my neck a few times and I levitated from my chair like The Exorcist chick, “You did whaaaat?!”
Turned out she had in fact Googled “Obama Care”, and then clicked on the first thing that popped up, which in fact was not “The” Obama Care from the Affordable Care Act. And in doing so, spoke with a really nice guy on the phone who took aaaaalll her information and signed her up for some “insurance”.
The next hour was the most stressful time of our lives. Probably more than my birth. I started screaming, she started crying. We both couldn’t find the cordless phone to call the really nice guy back. We needed the cordless because my mom still had a flip phone of which she only used via pre-paid minutes because, you know, why not!
“They’re going to take all of your money!” I was spewing, throwing pillows from off the orange mid-century modern couch.
“My retirement money!” she screamed, shoving papers around on her over-crowded desk.
“We need to call the bank!” But of course, we couldn’t call the bank because we couldn’t find the phone and she has a credit union without 24-hour service. She doesn’t trust big banks. We had to wait until the bank opened at 9 am.
We found the phone, dialed the number and naturally, couldn’t get anyone live to answer at first. Finally someone materialized after pushing pound twenty times. I pictured someone with a headset from Target talking to us from a dingy studio in Philadelphia somewhere. (I say this because at one of my receptionist jobs, we were taken by a copier toner scam and when I finally got someone on the phone, the lady sounded like she was in a dingy studio in Philly somewhere and she had a bird squawking in the background. Ain’t nobody at Xerox working in an office with a bird!)
My mom tried her best to handle her business. She calmly explained the situation. I felt like each moment we waited for this to get cancelled, someone was gobbling up her money like someone pouring the last of the Cap’N Crunch in their mouth. The guy was like, “I’m soooo sorry. What’s the problem?” “Why do you want to cancel ma’am?” “Are you certain you don’t need insurance?”
I finally grabbed the phone and shouted something like, “Cancel this immediately. Right now. Do it now. Cancel it. Cancel it. Cancel it!!!”
They finally cancelled it after making us jump through some hoops. I didn’t really believe that they didn’t cancel it, neither did mom and we still ran to the bank, no faces washed, no hairs combed and rushed into her adviser lady’s office like mad women and blurted out our plight. Finally the woman understood what was going on, that we were scammed and we changed the account or blocked shit or whatever and all was right with the world.
I admit, I could have handled that a little better. But I panicked. Which made her panic. And that was terrible.
So, I was a bit more prepared for when it was my dad’s turn. My dad lives in DC and we talk fairly regularly. He is super savvy on the computer; he knows how to create bots and was the first to tell me about Facebook ads and Fiverr and creating marketing funnels and white pages and all that shit that makes my head spin. He is a freelancing guru in his retirement age. He’s always saying, “Pep, I bought a new software…” I hear those words and I start to levitate; one, because I don’t know how much these things cost and I worry he’s gobbling them up like candy at the Five ‘N Dime, and two, software? For what? I don’t get tech stuff.
So, when he told me two weeks ago that he found a new gig, I wasn’t too alarmed.
“I’ve been hired to print payroll checks and send them out.”
Let’s be honest. My dad is retired. Any sort of thing he can do to earn income is a blessing. (He reads my blog, I think he will agree). So I was like, “Cool.” And after we hung up, I thought about it. “Print checks?”
I worked at a business manager’s office. I did payroll. I printed checks. In an office.
Not wanting to burst any bubbles, I called him a few days later, “Sooo, how does this check thing work, exactly?”
“They’re going to give me names and I’m supposed to print the checks and send them out, ‘Roni.”
His tone told me not to ask too much else (my dad doesn’t really like it when I ask a lot of questions. And this has been going on since I was at least twelve.) I persisted, “Soooooo, where do you get the supplies? They send you the checks?”
“No, Peppur. I have to buy them and then—”
My head started to swivel. “Umm….”
- What job has you buy your own supplies?
- What job has you sending out checks without sending you the certified, real-life check paper?
- What the what?!
“Dad…how much have you spent? Who is this company? Where are you buying the supplies from? What’s going on…?!” And the questions continued from there until I pissed him off a little,
“We’re supposed to get paid via check in the next week. If we don’t get a check, then we’ll know there’s a problem!”
I hung up shaking my head, “Ain’t no check comin’, pops. There’s a problem.” I then Googled the hell out of this thing and found this and this, which I sent to him promptly. We spoke again and some of the same shit was going on with his experience.
“This is fraud, dad.”
That F word was enough for him to snap out of whatever waiting game he was willing to play, “Uh-uh. Nobody’s gettin’ me like that. NOT me.”
My dad is a smart guy, like I told ya, he can do a shit ton of stuff on the computer, and he ran his own business back in the day. This scam isn’t about smarts. It’s about preying on people who are trying to get by. Money is a son of a gun; we all need it and when there’s an opportunity in front of us to get it, we tend to miss some signs, especially as we get older.
My brother was almost scammed with a production job he found on Craigslist. His job was to scout office space, buy camera equipment and set up shop for a film production from China — of which he never got the name. They offered, “Hey, send us your bank account number, we’ll send a check to you for the expenses, including your first salary deposit and since you’re such a great guy, we’ll send you a little extra. You keep that for your troubles.”
He didn’t tell me about this until the check had arrived.
Uh-uh, no sir. Don’t do it, I told him. “Why would they give you money for no reason?” That check would have bounced and he’d have been on the line for it.
And my friend’s mom was scammed by Publisher’s Clearing House! (Or you know, not them, but somebody pretending to be them.) My friend had the same head-twisting levitating experience when she learned that her mom got a call from “Publisher’s Clearing House” and they asked for aaaaaall of her information (social, bank stuff) and then were going to charge her a little tiny fee so that she could claim her big, big check. Same thing, screaming and crying. Running to the bank; closing accounts which caused a chain reaction of trouble of trying to figure out which automatic payments were associated with that account…important accounts like life insurance, that if missed a payment, were a big freaking deal.
Aaahh, who knew adulting would involve saving your parents and loved ones from scams?
So, what’s the moral to this story?
Talk to your parents. When they call, pick up the phone. Ask them questions, even if they don’t want you to. Stay close. We can’t watch them every second, like they did us when we were kids….because they aren’t children. They’re human. And in an age where one click equals whammo!, we can’t protect them from all of the bad guys. But by talking about it, and sharing stories like these, hopefully one less adult kid (maybe you) will be saved from The Exorcist and one less parent won’t give their social, bank account, pin, email address, home address and first born (you) away to a scamming stranger on the other end of the line.