Robb Hicken: Protecting parents from scam artists is tough job

Her plea was made with genuine concern and desperation.

“I was hoping since Dale Dixon (the president of Better Business Bureau) knows my parents that maybe he could get through to them, since they won’t believe me or the sheriff’s office, because they don’t understand what this guy promises,” said the Idaho woman, who asked that her name not be used. “They are both in their early 80s, and I cannot watch this happen.”

She then proceeded to describe the pillaging of her parents’ bank account. A series of con artists first told her parents that they had won a $1.2 million Costa Rican lottery but that they needed to pay taxes, delivery insurance and international governmental fees.

Between August and November 2014, her parents sent nearly $37,000 overseas in the hopes of securing the prize.

The woman confronted her parents, who live in Canyon County. She told them to stop sending money, because the check would never come. She pleaded desperately and helped them to see the truth, or so she thought.

“Then, on March 19, they were again contacted by phone by a man who said he was from Washington, D.C.,” she said. “He said he wants to get that check to them and that that is his job with the Consumer Protection Agency — Department of Justice.”

The woman called the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office and asked deputies to talk to her parents. They filed a report, but since the fraudsters used a bogus name, phone number and identification, authorities said nothing could be done. There is no way to track scam artists who are good at using technology to hide phone numbers or locations.

“My parents still are convinced that the check is coming, even though the man never shows up and makes excuses,” the woman said. “As far as I know, they have only sent an additional $300 this time.”

Most seniors who are taken by fraudsters are drawn by sweepstakes, government imposters, discount offers on medical supplies, equipment and medications and investment schemes from friends.

Talking to parents about scams can sometimes leave children frustrated, apprehensive and distressed. Here are some ways to approach them.

Beware: Look for changes in behavior. Scam artists will tell victims to be secretive; that family members will try to steal their newly won fortune. If mom and dad are suddenly secretive about bank accounts and phone calls, they may be victims.

Talk: When confronting parents involved in scams, most children fall back into the role of parent/child. Overcome this by simply talking about the parent’s financial status.

Modify: Help change your parents’ behavior from being submissive on the phone to being proactive. They should never answer questions from someone they do not know. They should never offer information in answer to questions such as, “Is this the lady of the house?” “Is your husband home?” “What is your address?” “What is your Social Security number?”

Answer: Phone etiquette has changed. It’s OK not to answer the phone but to let it go to voice mail. Install an answering machine and teach your parents how to use it. Emphasize the fact that caller ID allows you to determine whether or not to answer the call. Tell them not to answer or return calls to unknown numbers.

Recognize: The Do Not Call Registry is a great protection, but bad guys don’t follow the rules, and they will call. Teach parents that it’s OK to simply hang up if they do not recognize the person on the phone.

Watch: What type of mail is being delivered? Junk mail, lottery entry forms, foreign stamps, etc. can all be signs of exploitation.