MAY 9th, 2019
I still find them occasionally, as I clean up a corner in the house, or go through a box of papers. Most of them try hard to look like official communications from some government office, or legal documents from an attorney. They often have addresses in New York– God only knows how often I’ve looked up those addresses on Google Maps, to see what was actually there!–and they often have checks inside them, made out for obscenely large amounts.
It’s time to talk about them. It’s time to talk about the scams.
It’s been two years now since you left us, about seven years since you started to plunge into the abyss of a being a scam addict, coincident with your dementia. I’ve largely kept silent about our experiences, but it feels like it’s time to talk about them. Maybe our story can help someone else.
As far as I know, it started with the fake checks. I think the first time you called me was sometime in 2011. You told me you had a check from a bank in New York, and that the attached letter said it was the amount you would need to have on hand to pay the taxes on the much larger amount you had coming. You were supposed to call Bob Smith, or Jason Woods, or Melanie Daniels, at that person’s office on Long Island, and he or she would give you instructions to be followed prior to depositing the check.
I told you that that was a scam. If you had won a large sum of money from a benefactor, they would not give you the money to pay the taxes first, and they would not require you to pay the taxes in order to receive the rest of the money. Nor would they need to pay you “delivery fees” to give back to them later. If there were costs associated with a gift, a reputable company would simply deduct them. This company wanted you to deposit their phony check so that they would get it back with your routing and account numbers on it, and then be able to drain your bank account.
You didn’t push back too hard. You asked me to try and find a resume for Bob Smith, and a phone number for his company’s home office. I told you there was no Bob Smith, and he did not have a company or an office. “He” was a front invented by a grifter to make himself sound trustworthy.
I would get these calls from you every few months. You got a little more cantankerous each time. Then, in 2012, it got bad. You asked me to find information on Bob or Jason or Melanie and told me it was urgent to find him/her, because you needed to confirm that he/she had received the check you sent.
Oh, yes. You had sent a check to someone, to pay the delivery fees on his huge cash prize, and he was going to, out of his winnings, reimburse you, plus extra. When I checked the California address you had given me, I found it was an assisted living facility. When I pulled up the aerial and street photos on Google Maps, I saw that it was an assisted living facility that had either been closed for several years, or whose gardener was running a side job as a set dresser for The Chernobyl Diaries.
“This is a scam,” I told you.
“I know that,” you said. “I’m writing a book about these people, and I need to play their game to collect material. It’s not much money.”
In truth, I believe it was about $1500.
“You need to stop payment on that check,” I said.
But it was a money order, if I recall correctly.
Then the Jamaicans got involved. I forget exactly how I learned about them. I think it was at one of our regular Wednesday dinners.The whole family would get together on Wednesdays, sometimes minus Ethan by this point, because he was living at UMBC. The phone would ring with an 876 area coded-number, and you would rush to answer it.
“Who’s that calling?” I would ask Mother suspiciously. She would shrug and say, “Someone who’s been calling your father about some sweepstakes.” Of course, I knew it was a scam, and I looked up the 876 area code. I found out it was Jamaica. I called your phone company and asked if there was a way to block an entire area code, but there was not. I learned that you had been sending money via Western Union to “someone.”
Later, Susan called to tell me you were “frantic” about needing money. It was a Saturday, around 5:00 PM, and you said you needed $450 cash to go to Wal-Mart and buy a GreenDot MoneyPak card. “They” were coming tomorrow to deliver your car and a cashier’s check for over a million dollars. Thank God you did not have an ATM card, and the banks were closed. You wanted to know if anyone in the family had the cash on hand so that you could give them their money. I talked to you and assured you “they” were not coming. They just wanted the $450.
I found that you had already bought a bunch of those GreenDot cards. You had faithfully read to the Jamaican caller the number on the back of the card, “To prove to him that you had really bought it.” That would be the number on the back of the card, clearly labeled, “DO NOT SHARE THIS NUMBER.” But they weren’t going to take your money, of course. You were going to give that card to the driver who delivered your Mercedes or Miata or whatever it was this week, to pay the delivery fees.
I called and discovered that all the money had been drained off all the cards. Surprise.
The police came out on August 12, 2012 and interviewed you. At this point, the Jamaicans were calling a dozen times a day. They called while the officer was there, in fact, and he spoke to them. He told me that, from now on, we should always answer 876 calls by saying, “Howard County Police, Southern District, may I help you?” I did this at one point. That was quite interesting.