One of the topics I covered in my first book, The Wolf at the Door, is how the elderly are especially vulnerable to financial predators. As people get older, they are much more likely to let down their guards and become victims of scam artists and criminals.
The story I'm about to tell you comes from an accountant here in Sacramento who learned of this directly from one of his clients.
The grandson of an elderly couple who live in the foothills recently took an extended school trip to a South American country. The trip was planned well in advance, and the grandson had told many people about his travels, including friends on his social media accounts.
As you might expect, for an extensive trip to a foreign country, there was much planning involved, and several companies participated in ticketing and reservations. Unfortunately, one of those companies had connections to a con artist.
One day, the elderly couple got a disturbing phone call from their grandson. His voice was hardly intelligible because of the long-distance call, but the gist of what he said was that all of his belongings were stolen, including expensive camera equipment, a computer, and a cell phone, and he needed to replace them immediately. Would his grandparents be able to send him $5,000 via a Western Union wire transfer that day?
The grandparents knew that their grandson was in South America at that time, and the call sounded authentic.
Of course, they would help.
Grandma and Grandpa got in their car and drove immediately to their bank where they intended to withdraw $5,000 in cash. From there, they were going to find a local pharmacy where they could send a Western Union wire.
Luckily for this elderly couple, a teller at their bank knew them well and was alarmed to hear that they needed the $5,000 in cash. It wasn't that the amount was so large that it would have caused financial hardship, but rather it was because it was a transaction that was completely out of the norm for them.
So, she asked, "Hey, what's this all about?"
When she heard it was for a wire to be sent to their grandson in South America, alarm bells went off for her. Before taking out the cash, she said, why don't they call the grandson's parent, their son, just to make sure the story is correct.
A few minutes later they had their answer. The story was completely bogus, and the caller was a scam artist who had connected some dots online to create a convincing and plausible story. Working backward, it appears that someone who had access to the grandson's itinerary looked him up online and found contact information for his grandparents.
Were it not for the quick thinking of the bank teller, this story would likely have ended badly. You can be sure that once the first wire went through, the grandparents would get another panicked call saying that the money was never received and that they would need to send it again.
As I wrote in The Wolf at the Door, people at the front lines of the financial services industry need to be extra vigilant when it comes to protecting their elderly customers from fraud and scams. We need to train people at banks and brokerages to ask those questions and be extra certain that their customers aren't being taken advantage of.
In this case, I'd like to acknowledge that sharp-eyed teller who saved her client and her client's family from an enormous financial loss. We need more people like her.
Before you go, please let me know if you'd like to receive a free copy of my book, The Wolf at the Door. Just send your address in an email to me at [email protected], and I'll be glad to put one in the mail. My new book, Alzheimer's, Widowed Stepmothers & Estate Crimes is coming out next month on Amazon. If you'd like that book too, please let me know, and I'll send you a digital copy.