As part of the NCEA’s activities surrounding this week’s theme of “Elder Voices”, the NCEA has collaborated with Frank, an elder consumer and member of the NCEA Advisory Board. Frank graciously offered to share his story with the NCEA as he openly discussed his experience with the “grandparent scam” and how he became involved with the NCEA. Frank also shared how elder justice professionals can better incorporate the insight of elders in their efforts. Below is a transcript of the discussion.
Can you briefly share with us your story?
FP: When everything [Elder Abuse Center] was centered at UCI, Dr. Bonnie Olsen was having a lecture on senior abuse and covered every type but one. So I waited for the right opportunity and shared the story of when I got scammed. Dr. Olsen was so impressed that I was willing to share this story. I already knew Dr. Mosqueda, who was taking care of my wife (she was battling a stroke). Before long, I became the “fair-haired boy”! Essentially, I am the consultant on scam issues. Although scams are abuse, not all senior abuse is explored to the full extent. When I pick up the newspaper, I see things aimed at me - hearing aids, back treatments, ads for assisted living facilities, and some are so over-anxious to share, that they do not have an honest appearance.
Can you tell us about your experience with being a victim of a scam?
FP: I got a phone call one morning and the voice I heard was my grandson and I had no question it was my grandson. He tells me he is in Cusco. He says he was with his friends for an auto race and he was driving a car without a driver’s license. He said he needed $3,400 to get out of jail. My first question was, “Why are you calling me and not your father?” He said, “Well, we’re having a problem and I can’t call him.” He then gave me a detailed approach and instructions on how to send the money gram. He talked about going to Target and had detailed instructions. I did exactly as he instructed. I went to the bank and the cashier asked, “What is this large amount for? Probably Christmas gifts, right?” and I said yes. I followed all the instructions and when I got home, he called to confirm and said thank you and said he would pay me back. He also told me not to tell anyone about what happened. I then got a call from the American Embassy in Puerto Vallarta. He started to tell me that my grandson had gotten as far as Mexico and did not have a visa, so he was in jail and needed $1,000. Right then, I knew I had been had. I called the FBI. They were useless. I called the agencies they told me to call. The next day, I got a call from an FBI agent. He said he had spoken to his chief and authorized $1,000 to continue the conversation. I called the police department and they took the story. The FBI agent called again and the officer picked up the phone and determined that it was not a legitimate FBI agent. The police took a report and assigned the case to a detective. I’m not proud of what happened to me, but I want to share my story so that others can avoid this from happening to them. Now I am very cautious of calls and any kind of solicitation. I was still living at home when I got another call from someone who claimed to be my grandson and I answered, “What, are you in jail again?” This time he was not in another country. This time I thought I would keep going and try to keep him on the line to catch him but he eventually hung up.
How has this experience changed your life?
FP: Dr. Mosqueda gave me a letter for me to sign as an NCEA participant. Dr. Mosqueda moved to Los Angeles and had enough confidence in me that she gave me her cell phone number, so I called and asked about the NCEA. In October, my wife died- I’m not able to accept it yet. My attitude is, “What do I have to live for?” But this [involvement with NCEA] has made me want to move forward and continue.
What areas do you believe should be focused on to prevent elder abuse?
FP: Areas of any kind of exploitation of elders. There are elders with funds and there are elders without funds. But the emphasis on capitalizing on funds is apparent in many ways - ads for medications, scams, etc. People are looking for ways to take advantage. There are also elders trying to take advantage of other elders.
How can we include older adults’ insights more?
FP: One way is to inform elders of the existence of these problems and where to go for help. You need to go to the medical facilities like UCI and Kaiser because a lot of seniors go there. Senior centers are a great place to go as well. Attempts are needed to provide live exposure and get people to tell their stories and make people alert. It is not just a matter of putting literature out. Police are not much informed in catching these people either. They say, “Poor old guy.” We have riots in Ferguson, Baltimore, etc. They need to have special squads who can match efforts to locate and catch these individuals. There needs to be more law enforcement participation.
Based on your personal experience, what is one thing that everyone should know to prevent this from happening to them?
FP: Be aware of the fact that if you have funding, someone will try to take it from you. The answer from the NCEA is to hang up and get out but my answer is to find out a way to catch them.