A nasal male voice slowly enunciates each word:
This message is intended to contact you
regarding an enforcement action
executed by the US Treasury
intending your serious attention
My mind flutters as
I listen to the stern pronouncement
on my answering machine
a U. S. Treasury
intending my attention…?
Who talks like that?
I get it…)
intending my attention.
But the calls keep coming–
the gruff voice;
the urgent tone;
My name is Dennis Gray. Ignoring this message will be an intentional second attempt to avoid an initial appearance before a magistrate judge or grand jury for a federal criminal offense…
This is Officer John White…the reason for this call is to inform you that the IRS has issued an arrest warrant against you– and your physical address is under federal investigation…
This is Bill Russell, your prize director…this contest is now officially over and your ticketed entry has been selected as a winner…a brand new Ford Explorer vehicle…or one of three more prizes…
I ignore Dennis, Bill, and Officer John–
I feel smug
impervious to their malicious intent.
But my confidence wanes
as I remember my mama.
Even in the years before dementia,
she suddenly became easy prey;
on the phone
at her door
my mother was an elderly woman
with a target on her back.
Oh Hallie, I did something horrible!
Mama, whatever it is—I’m sure it’s OK…
But as soon as I’d heard her voice
–plaintive, meek, fragile–
I knew it wasn’t OK.
Oh, but Hallie, this is so bad…
What happened, Mama?
Well, last night I got a phone call from my Godson Peter.
He said he’d been arrested for unpaid traffic tickets. He needed cash for bail. And he begged me not to tell anyone-he was so embarrassed–he didn’t want his brothers to know.
He promised to pay me back today but he never called…
Oh Hallie, I just spoke to his roommate. Peter isn’t even in LA–he’s traveling for work. Peter wasn’t in jail at all!
Mama, I don’t understand…you gave him money? How?
A young man came to the door. He said he was a friend of Peter’s. I gave him all my cash…
Oh Hallie, I am so stupid!
But my mother was not stupid—
not that time,
nor any of the others.
A man came to the door on a blistering hot day. Could I trouble you for a glass of water? She told him to wait on the porch. When she returned, he was standing in her living room.
GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT!
Later she discovered her wallet was missing.
A woman came to the door with a small child. Could my little girl please use your bathroom? She let them in. When they exited the back room, my mother discovered two men ransacking her bedroom.
I screamed at the top of my lungs!
I was amazed she was still alive.
They took nothing;
they took everything that mattered.
I was frightened and heartsick for my mama;
I had no idea how to protect her.
And I was perplexed;
at age 80,
my mother had lived alone for decades;
she still rode the bus
all the way across Los Angeles
to her art gallery job.
with no apparent warning—
was my smart, savvy mother
the victim of
scammers and thieves?
Years later, a newspaper headline revealed a possible answer:
For the old, less sense of who to trust
“there’s a reason so many older people fall for financial scams…their brains don’t send out as many warning signals that ignite a danger-ahead gut response.”
Research has found that when a young person senses a threat, a certain section of the brain—the anterior insula– literally lights up, warning of impending danger. But as we age, the anterior insula might no longer physically respond to potential trouble.
Or in the words of Dr. Shelley Taylor, UCLA professor and lead researcher:
“The warning signals that convey a sense of potential danger to younger adults just don’t seem to be there for older adults…”
And suddenly it all made sense—
the answer was in the science;
dementia was not the culprit–but still
my mama’s aging brain had failed her.
Somehow I’d always known
my mother was not responsible for what was happening–
her unexpected vulnerability and misplaced trust were completely
out of her control.
I’m the one
who receives threatening messages.
And while I’m certain
Officer John won’t arrest me;
a grand jury won’t indict me;
and I didn’t win a Ford Explorer at the mall;
I understand why the elderly make gut-wrenching decisions.
Every sinister word
(this is our final attempt)
(I advise you to cooperate)
(it is important you call this number today!)
could lead to catastrophe
for an unsuspecting senior.
(mama please– don’t say that–you are not stupid!)
we need to protect our elderly.
It is urgent.
It is up to us.
It’s a matter of trust.
I welcome your comments. Can you share other examples of fraud to help our readers understand the range of scams perpetrated against the elderly? Do you have suggestions how to protect our loved ones?
For further insight, please see the NY Times December 5, 2012 For The Old, Less Sense of Who To Trust by Judith Graham. Here is the link
The article mentions the National Center on Elder Abuse and the Eldercare Locator, a federal service that helps older adults and caregivers find local programs and agencies. “Protect Your Pocketbook” is a consumer guide intended for older adults and families who wanted to understand what puts them at risk, how to prevent fraud, and where to turn for help.