Isobel, 60, from Sandbach, tells how her mum Evelyn lost an estimated £80,000 to £100,000 to calls and letters from those she thought of as friends.
Mum ran a business for years, and was always independent, astute – never went into debt. When she started asking for money we thought it was a wobble, and helped her out. But it went on.
She was filling in newspaper ads and sending off her details, thinking she was going to get money. At first we thought, ‘She knows what she’s doing.’ Then while she was on holiday I looked after her house and collected three bin bags of junk mail. The letters said, ‘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 almost like a job to sort through all this post. She was sending MoneyGrams everywhere – Jamaica, Australia, Hong Kong, Belgium. The police even called to say her name had 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 ring me, pleading: ‘I need this money now.’
I’d tell her these people were criminals and she’d get mad, saying awful things. It was painful because we’d always been close – I’m her only daughter.
The calls never stopped. I’d be there and it would ring, and her face would light up – it was someone saying she’d won something. She enjoyed the companionship and conversations. She thought they were her friends.
Mum sold all her jewellery and valuable items to a dealer who came out to the house. Even the dealer became concerned after overhearing many calls about winning the lottery and rang the police – but she still picked out more of Mum’s things to sell.
We tried everything
As a nurse, I’d looked after elderly people but it’s different when it’s your mum. She’d say, ‘I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t go out. You don’t understand. These people are helping me.’
It filled a hole in her life and the scammers encouraged her to keep matters secret, especially from the family.
My brother got power of attorney so we could protect her. He found she’d sent out up to £1,200 in a week. We changed Mum’s number numerous times but the scammers always found her new one. If you think ex-directory is secure, think again.
We discovered a call divert system, which enables full control of incoming and outgoing calls and allowed selected calls to be diverted to my brother. She accused us of tampering with her phone, but it was for her safety and worked well.
But you can’t divert post without the recipient’s permission.
The police couldn’t do anything as ‘a crime has not been committed’. Trading standards gave Mum leaflets. Mum’s MP showed concern and six months later there was a letter from the Prime Minster saying the Government didn’t deal with individual cases and suggesting Citizens Advice, which we’d been to already!
There is nothing to protect vulnerable people.
Escaping into a care home
Mum was diagnosed with dementia in 2010. She didn’t want to live with me and went into a care home last November. Before, she looked stressed all the time, but she’s now calm and eating properly. The lottery still comes up; she thinks she’s in a hotel and the other guests have come for their winnings!
Life is much better. I can see her when I want and know she’s happy and safe. We think she’s been taken for between £80,000 and £100,000 over twenty years. I wish we could have intervened earlier, but there’s little you can do.
The warning signs are the amount of junk mail and calls, and of course the state of the bank account. Having power of attorney is vital: without it even family can do nothing to protect their loved ones.
This is a guest contribution by Isobel. All opinions are her own, not necessarily those of Which?
You can read the full version of this story on our Which? Elderly Care site.