Isobel's mother Evelyn was a victim of scam letters and phone calls for 20 years, losing an estimated £80,000 to £100,000. The saga finally ended when she went into a care home.
“Mum ran her own business for years, and was always independent - very astute, never went into debt. So when she started asking for money we thought it was just a wobble, and we helped her out. But it just went on and on.
She was filling in newspaper adverts and sending off her details, thinking she was going to get some money. We made light of it first, thinking, ‘Well, she knows what she’s doing.’ Then she went on holiday and while she was away I looked after her house and I collected three black bin bags of junk mail. The letters would say, ‘You’ve won a million pounds, but you need to pay an administration fee.’ She’d say: ‘It’s from the Royal Mail, it can’t be a scam.’
Plagued by postal and phone scams
It became a habit, almost like a job to sort through all this post. She was sending MoneyGrams here there and everywhere – Jamaica, Australia, Hong Kong, Belgium. I even got a phone call from the police saying, ‘Your mum’s name has come up in a money laundering scam!’ She lost track of time and would be shuffling these pieces of paper in the middle of the night and she’d ring me up in a panic pleading: ‘I need this money now!’
I’d reply that I wouldn’t because these people were criminals and she’d get mad at me, saying awful things. It became so painful because we’d always been very close – I’m her only daughter. It put such a strain on the whole family.
And the phone calls never stopped. I’d be there and it would ring, and her face would light up - it was someone saying she had won something. She enjoyed the companionship and the conversations. She thought they were her friends.
Being desperate to get money to send to the scammers, Mum sold all her jewellery and a number of other valuable items to a local dealer. The woman came out to the house to see what else she had. She became concerned after overhearing so many phone calls about winning the lottery that she rang the police – but it didn’t stop her picking out more of my mother’s things to sell!
Finding a way through the problem
I was a nurse and had looked after elderly people at times. I thought I’d be able to cope, but I felt completely at sea. My training had not prepared me for this nightmare. It’s so different when it’s your own Mum, and if I asked her about it, she’d say, ‘I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t go out. It keeps me busy’ or, ‘You don't understand how it all works, these people are helping me.’
"In the end we discovered a call divert system, which enables full control of all incoming and outgoing calls. It worked really well."
It was an occupation for her. It filled a hole in her life. And the scammers had talked Mum into believing a whole web of intrigue, encouraging her to keep matters secret, especially from the family. The story involved the Prime Minister, the President of the USA and even the Queen.
The value of power of attorney
After realising there was a problem, my brother got power of attorney so we could support and protect her. He found she’d sent out up to £1,200 in a single week! We tried repeatedly to break their link with Mum. We changed her phone number numerous times, but on each occasion, the scammers found her new number. If you think ex-directory is secure, think again!
We tried everything
In the end we discovered a call divert system, which enables full control of all incoming and outgoing calls and allowed selected calls to be diverted to my brother. That was the best thing we ever did, because now the scammers could not reach Mum. She accused of us tampering with her phone, which we had! But it was for her own safety. It really worked well.
I rang the Post Office but you can’t divert post without the recipient’s permission, and they said they had to deliver the mail by law, so that line of attack was not possible.
The police are unable to do anything as 'a crime has not been committed'. Trading Standards came to discuss the situation with Mum, they presented leaflets and pointed to online information sites. Mum's MP showed sincere concern and after six months a letter from the Prime Minster informed us that 'the Government does not deal with individual cases' and that we should 'contact Citizens Advice', which we had done already!
There is nothing in place to protect vulnerable people for these cruel and heartless individuals.
Escaping into a care home
Mum was diagnosed with dementia in 2010 and became more and more confused. She didn’t want to live with me and she went into a care home last November. She’s so much better now. Before, she looked haggard and stressed all the time, but she is now calm and she’s eating properly. The subject of the lottery still comes up; she thinks she’s in a hotel and the other guests have come for their winnings!
After all the anguish, life is so much better for us all now. I can go and see her when I want and I know she’s happy and safe. We think she’s been taken for a ride for between £80,000 and £100,000 over twenty years. I wish we could have intervened earlier, but there is so little you can actually do.
The warning signs are the amount of junk mail and phone calls, and of course the state of the bank account. Having power of attorney is vital: without it even the family can do nothing to protect their loved ones.”