AARP MEMBER SPEAKS OUT ON SENIOR FRAUD

Posted on 03/5/2013 by | AARP Minnesota | Comments

 Fraud Press ConferenceMy name is Peggy Heistand -Harri and I am an AARP Member from Duluth.  I am here to tell my family’s story about wire transfer fraud – a story that happens all too often across the state of Minnesota.

Over a period of ten days in June of 2010, my mother, who lives only on a very small pension and Social Security, was coerced into sending $47,000 — which included $10,000 cash — to a Jamaican scam. 

How did this happen? A phone call from Jamaica advised her she had won $ 2.5 million dollars and a Mercedes Benz.  Several calls later, she was convinced to send money for shipping the car. 

During that period of the next ten days, the calls kept coming, becoming more demanding and more personalized.  They somehow knew that church was important to her, and the caller claimed to be a minister. The caller gained her trust and coached her about exactly where to go to obtain cash advances on her zero-balance credit cards.  They walked her through exactly how to wire money and told her to go to K Mart and/or Super One in West Duluth, near her home, to wire it.  It was incredibly easy – not once was she stopped along the way.  At one point, she actually withdrew $10,000 in cash, put it in an envelope, and traveled across town to send it.  Before we knew it, she had maxed out two zero-balance credit cards and went into severe credit card debt.

What we know now is that this scam stemmed from a hotbed of illegal criminal activity that targets older Minnesotans. These fraudsters either seduce vulnerable citizens to send money for promised goods or winnings that do not exist – or they convince them that their grandchildren or loved ones are in danger and need them to wire money. 

Most people don’t report this kind of crime.  In fact, experts say only about 5 percent of the crimes are reported.  It’s too embarrassing and law enforcement can do little to stop it.  Minnesota needs to pass this bill to better protect its most vulnerable citizens –our elders. 

For our family, it was a year of heartbreak as we tried to help mother. My mother, at age 83, had to file bankruptcy as her interest alone on the credit card debt was more than her income.  We realized there was very little we could do. We contacted the FBI, Secret Service, Homeland Security, Duluth Police, Postmaster General, Attorney General and the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.  The only help we received was from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. 

Both my mother and I attended an AARP Fraud Fighters forum in November 2010 in Duluth where we heard from AARP, the Attorney General and Investigator Jim Arlt talk about fraud. When he spoke about victims exactly like my mother, I finally realized we were not alone. Too many seniors across our state have lost their life savings. They feel so much shame – and they isolate themselves and suffer alone.

Our seniors deserve more protection from fraud.  Our taxpayers deserve it, too, because millions of hard-earned dollars are wired down the drain every year.   We all need to be leaders by passing this legislation — and in doing so provide a strong example of taxpayers protecting our vulnerable citizens.  Our elders have worked hard, paid taxes and followed our laws.  Now, they need protection against this illegal activity. 

It has been almost three years since this happened to my mom.  When I asked her what it felt like to hold $10,000.00 in cash as she put it in an envelope to mail it, she said “I don’t remember, they had my mind, I didn’t know what I was doing.”  There has not been a day in her life since those 10 days in June of 2010 that has been normal for her.  The outcome of this has been a nightmare.  Not only has she lost her financial independence, her health has deteriorated. She has isolated herself – and she feels ashamed.  These scammers not only took money from my mother, but her health and spirit as well. 

On behalf of my mother, and all of the seniors across our state who have fallen victim to this crime, I would like to urge you to support the passage of this bill to protect seniors from wire transfer fraud.  We have a duty to create a safety net to question, delay and stop our most vulnerable citizens from wiring away their life savings. 

I never thought something like this would happen to my mother.  Now I know it can happen to anyone – anyone’s mother, neighbor, or friend.  We all need to pay more attention to our elders – and to pass strong laws that will help them avoid frauds. Minnesota seniors are worth protecting. They are our mothers and fathers, our grandmothers and grandfathers.

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