After having grown very frustrated with the scams -- which often targeted Craigslist posters and responders, seeking to get short-term jobs or rent spare rooms -- I wondered, how could these thieves live with themselves, taking money and hope from those most in need of it? How could no one care? I found that we were neither alone nor, by any measure, the most frustrated and penniless because of these scammers. That this story in the Wall Street Journal features a 70-year-old Ivy League grad who was slowly stripped of his responsibilities and power over his own finances by concerned family members only emphasizes what a huge problem these criminals are; and what little effort our law enforcement agencies and financial institutions are putting into it.
International criminals who use the wire services to defraud our elderly, these people say, is a family matter.
This relative of WSJ writer Karen Blumenthal had suffered the death of his wife a few years ago, then moved to a town two hours away from his nearest family member. And then, the fraud began: the first time, he was paying taxes on huge lottery winnings (which of course he never saw); lottery crooks sent him a very large cashier's check and asked him to immediately wire some percentage of the money for taxes (in the rental scam, the money is for moving expenses and the rest is security deposit and upfront rent; in the job scam, the money is for the employer's family members' travel expenses, and the remainder is the employee's pay).
The checks are, of course, forgeries, though banks will often accept the deposits, then charge customers a series of fees, and deduct the money the victim has sent to the crooks, when they turn out to be fraudulent. The wire services who send the funds say they can't be held accountable (and can't return funds). It's important to note that the banks and wire services are making money from these scams; my husband called National City Bank about the check pictured, asking didn't they care someone was using their name fraudulently? No, they didn't, nor did any other financial institution whose name appeared on the checks he and his family members received.
The FBI, local police and state officials say they can't do anything. "We never found a law-enforcement agency that cared," said the Ivy League grad's son, who was eventually given power of attorney, and then named guardian, over his father. Not even despite the fact that, according to the National Consumers League, 41% of the calls and reports about fraud in 2008 were about check scams, compared to to less than 7% in 2005.
The only people who care are the victims of fraud and their agonizing family members.
The man, who repeatedly admitted he'd been scammed, kept sending more money. When he couldn't cash out his life insurance policy, he sold his car and sent $4,500 to Costa Rica. When his family took away his cell phone and re-routed his mail to another state, the scammers kept coming, and a few hours later, he demanded his phone back: A friend needed some money.