I began to work with our local Office on Aging, trying to identify mental health services that might reach out to you. I had been told by a social worker that they had an elder mental health officer who might be able to evaluate you. But I knew age was only part of your mental state. You were also traumatized by the threats and harassment.
You still refused to have the phone number changed, even after all this; but after one of the shouting matches with the Jamacian, you asked Mother to please turn off the phone and leave it off.
This was a refreshing change from the night I came in and found you on the couch, in a lather, with about six cell phones in front of you. “Which one of these damn things works?” you demanded to know. I asked where they had come from. You said you had bought them. Most were un-activated pay-as-you-go phones. I wasn’t about to tell you how to activate them! “I have a working cell phone!” you insisted. It was true, you did. You kept it in your truck, the battery never charged, in case of emergencies. It was gone from your truck. We never found out what happened to it, but my reading had told me that the sudden concern over having a cell phone was because the Jamaican had convinced you that he needed a more private way to contact you, without your family knowing. Case histories said that these scammers often convinced their victims that the reason families were so alarmed by the scam activity was that wives and children wanted the money for themselves. So they gas-lighted the victim into setting up secret methods of contact. You reinforced this belief by growling, “None of your damned business!” when I asked why you suddenly needed a cell phone.
But that dust-up died a quiet death. Mother did call the phone company and ask about changing the number, but they were discouraging, saying it wouldn’t help. I wondered if there even was such a thing as an unlisted number anymore.
Mother flagged your remaining, modest bank accounts so that one of us would be called any time you took money out. It was odd to begin with that you were withdrawing money. You had rarely done that in your life. You let Mother handle the money.
At the end of May, you seemed stable. You understood you’d been a victim of scammers, and you wanted it all to stop. But we weren’t sure what would come tomorrow.
In the meantime, the Jamaican apparently became frantic that you weren’t answering the phone. The goose had stopped laying the golden eggs. So he took action to try and contact you again. Here’s how that went down:
I came in on the afternoon of May 29, 2013, and Mother met me at door, happily saying, “Well! We have a new phone number!”
“That’s great,” I said. “Did you ask them to make it unlisted?”
“Oh, we didn’t ask them anything. They just called and said they had changed our phone number.” She handed me a slip of paper with a number written on it, in your handwriting, and also an 800 number for Verizon tech support.
“So Verizon called you?”
“They called your father. He spoke to them this morning.”
“And, out of the blue, they told you that you were getting a new number?”
“Yes. They said it was per his request.”
“Did he request a phone number change?”
“No. I think, because I had talked to them about it last week…”
“Mother, you don’t have phone service with Verizon.”
Her eyes got big.
I asked where you were. You were out running “errands.”
The phone rang. It was a 702 number, which allegedly would be a Vegas area code. We let it go to voice mail. I activated call trace on the next call. The 702 number rang again a minute later. This time I answered. “Jeff Williams,” the caller on the other end, sounded an awful lot like the individual who had made death threats against me several months ago. He said he was calling regarding a certified delivery for Mr. Wilson. I asked what the nature of the delivery was, but, of course, he would not talk to me. I hung up on him. It took five minutes for the line to clear, so I assume he was trying to call back repeatedly.
I called Broadview, your actual phone provider, and got very frustrated trying to get the representative to understand what had happened. They just didn’t seem to get that your number had been changed, and you had not requested it. I finally, somehow, wound up speaking to a member of their legal team.
Turned out that, on May 22, an unidentified caller had phoned their customer service center, said he was Charles Wilson, and given the correct street address. Broadview’s legal rep said that that is all the information a caller needs to provide to get access to their account by phone. She said that the identification procedures are mandated by the FCC. That concerned me, because anyone knowing your basic contact info could theoretically make changes to your phone service.
The caller had requested that the phone number be changed. He gave as his contact info an email address–not yours, but a Gmail address in Italian–and the same Vegas phone number that had been calling incessantly since the number changed. I had the phone number changed immediately to one that we picked.
Your phone company also said that the call to change your number was probably recorded, and the rep from their legal department promised to subpoena the records and investigate. I never heard back about that.
With this information, I contacted the FCC. I explained to two or three people that I was calling to discuss identification procedures, and finally was transferred to a very tired-sounding man who apparently investigated violations. I began telling him what had happened, and he literally said, “I don’t know why the hell you’re telling me this.” “Bear with me,” I said, “and I think you’ll understand.” When I had related the entire story, he said, “Mr. Wilson, I’ve worked here for decades, and that is the damndest thing I’ve ever heard!” He confirmed that Broadview was, um, mistaken about FCC regulations for identifying customers, and that they would be in some trouble for letting some idiot who knew your name and address make changes to your account. Beyond that, there wasn’t much the FCC could do.
TO BE CONTINUED