Jim Ingebrigtsen
Is It Just Me…

I recently had a telephone conversation with a woman in her late eighties whom I have known most of my life. She has had an interesting life but, not always the easiest. She had seven children, six of whom are still living. Her husband of forty-plus years left her twenty years ago. Alone and elderly, she now has a list of medical issues that have slowed her down and perhaps made her more vulnerable. 

I listened as she talked about her kids, grandkids and the great grandkids. 

She went quiet for a moment. Then she said, “I have something to tell you.” Her tone lowered and became very serious. “I lost my life savings last month.” “What happened?” I replied. 

She got a phone call from someone who seemed to know her nephew. He explained her nephew was in dire need of money and was hoping she could help. 

March is fraud prevention month – stay vigilant for potential scams.

The details she shared were murky but, in the end, the smooth-talking man on the end of the line preyed upon her good nature and generosity eventually convincing her to withdraw money from her bank account and send him the cash. She fell for the scam not once but three times. Every penny she saved for years, which she intended to pass on to her family when she, in turn, passed on, was gone. Almost $10,000.Gone.

More often than most of us are aware, smooth talking scam artists hit closer to home. Here’s an example of another senior I knew who was victimized. 

Picture a widow in her eighties. A life-long member and supporter of her church. She was a good wife, a good neighbour and a good mother. Too good as it turns out. Her only son, when he was a young man, got hooked. Not on drugs or alcohol but, on the hope of winning the big one. Break-opens, Scratch and Win, lottery tickets and his very favourite, VLT’s. 

He is now in his fifties. He lived at home for most of his life. He has never had a full-time job and he has never driven a car. He was well taken care of. What the family and their friends didn’t know was that the parents provided him with the funds to feed his obsession for decades.

Sadly, the father passed away just months after cancelling the life insurance policy he could no longer afford. The mother sold the family home and moved into a seniors’ facility. She was confident she had enough money to allow her to live comfortably for the rest of her life. Within a year she moved out realizing she couldn’t afford it. She moved in with her son. When extended family members finally caught on, it was too late. Why would a woman who is almost ninety apply for six credit cards? Why would she have a maxed-out line of credit? 

When the Public Trustee took over her finances, it was estimated the woman owed between two and three hundred thousand dollars. Just before being forced to file for bankruptcy, she died. 

It’s believed the good parents were aware of the high cost of supporting their son but, shame and embarrassment kept them from seeking help. In the end, the poor woman was basically penniless.

In 2020, there were about 25,000 reported cases of telephone fraudsters in Canada, almost all of them taking advantage of seniors. It is believed more than 250,000 seniors experience financial abuse from family or loved ones. It is the most common and fastest growing form of elder abuse.