Monday, February 18

Scamming Senior Citizens

I'm putting this out as a Public Service Announcement because we have to protect ourselves and the ones we love.

"Don't talk to strangers" is one of the things we are told as children. Bad things can happen to you. If a conversation is necessary, like meter readers or delivery people, talk to them through the gate. Never ever tell them that you are alone in the house. Don't ever let them into the house.  

These days, I think it's also necessary to advise the elder members of the household the same thing. Warn the househelp to never unlock the gates for anyone, even those who claim to be surveyors from an office. Because people with bad intentions are glib and slick and will manage to wangle their way in. 

Earlier today, at around lunchtime, They asked if there were senior citizens in the house. The help called out to my aunt, who is seventy, who said yes, there are two of them here. But my mother who just turned sixty was out buying lunch, I was in another part of the yard with ear plugs on, my other cousin had taken her bike out for pizza. The help thought it was okay for my elderly aunt to unlock the gate and let in three strangers. After all, they had very official looking clipboards. She stood by idly texting her friends. 

Meanwhile, three people claiming to be survey takers from an Ortigas office were lead to my aunt's upstairs apartment. They asked where "Lolo" was, and she said there is none. She's an old maid. She lives alone. Everyone is out at work or in school. That's when they told her a few magic words: "You won something in a raffle!" Then they told her that she needed to give them some money first before she can claim said winnings. Fortunately enough, my aunt told them that if she had indeed won anything, then couldn't they just substract it off her prize? They didn't get anything from her. By the time that everyone else in the household had returned, the surveyors had left the house. My mother was just dropping by to give my aunt the vacation photos when she learned of the strange visit. "Why did you let them in? You could have been hurt!" That's when my mom roused the entire household. 

Why we think this is a scam: First, they didn't even know who to look for. They cast a generic fishing statement: "Are there senior citizens in the house?" Next, they determined relative isolation. There's only a maid and an elderly person. Then they got a solid in, as it was the owner of the house who had opened the gates. It was fortunate that my aunt had locked the gates again. Which somehow prevented them from just running out. Sure, the walls can be climbed, but two women and one gay men can't just climb over the walls unnoticed. Also, telling someone they won a prize and then ask for a "collateral" is right there in the book of scams. If you are gullible enough, you would believe it. But come on. Even the government makes it difficult to claim one's official benefits. You have to bring the actual elderly person to claim money that is rightfully yours. Also, "We are from an office in Ortigas" is vague enough to suggest something is "business-like." Offices would not go around giving out "raffle prizes." Or as my mother put it: "How can you win something if you never bought a ticket?" 

We have all received text messages like that, and this is just a door-to-door version of it, casting a wide net for vulnerable people in relative isolation. Targeting senior citizens is just another variation. They are generally nicer people. They make small talk with the couriers and the delivery people. If push comes to shove, it will be easier to beat them in a fight. Or there are always drugs to put down even the strongest, able bodied person. 

My aunt tried to downplay the dangers: that she was taller and seemed stronger than the strangers she let in. They seemed official with forms and a checklist that they had her sign. That she didn't give them any money. But they could just as easily drug her, or hammer her to death or--Really, it could have been worse. 

Now we are worried that these people would come back, knowing that they had easily been let into the house by an elderly person and the help. They should have known better. That this is clearly a variation of a scam style that's been in the news. We've seen it. We just never thought it would knock on our doors and invite themselves in.

We can never be too vigilant. Tell your children. Tell your beloved elderly relatives. Tell your househelp. Do not talk to strangers. Don't let them into the house. Don't accept candy. Just don't. The doors and gates are locked because the world is a dangerous place, and it is up to ourselves to keep the ones we love safe. 

No comments: