Don’t think thieves have no conscience. Some of us feel quite guilty, even before capture. Thankfully, I think I’ve outgrown my unacceptable tendencies; serving two stints in prison and turning seventy make a man mellow and empathetic. Today I’m just one of about fifty aging residents of Paradise Homes who’ve gathered in the community center to hear a police officer lecture us about senior scams. The officer first emphasizes it’s easy to target victims because cons sell Hot Lists featuring seniors who have good credit scores and homes paid off. These affluent folks are also often reluctant to contact authorities.
He then warns about phony calls from the IRS. I’m tempted to stand and tell my neighbors how I used to operate. I’d phone geezers, as I then considered them, and announce, “This is the Internal Revenue Service calling to inform you you’re under investigation. You’ve filed incorrect tax forms and owe the IRS two thousand dollars. You must pay us within forty-eight hours or we’ll impound your home and send you to jail.”
Half the people hung up before replying, forty-five percent explained their innocence before cutting me off, and about five percent either hadn’t filed or forgotten doing so, and asked where to send the check. That doesn’t mean one in twenty sent checks to my post office box. Adult children often ruined my plans. Let’s say I got paid for about one call in fifty, a couple grand for a day or two of stressful work.
The officer shames me when he explains the grandparents scam. I used to call older couples and tell them I was their grandson and had sustained a broken nose in a car wreck in Timbuktu and my medical condition and the jail’s poor connection caused me to sound so different. Please wire money so I can get out of this dangerous place. I hit a few homers on this scam but had a low batting average since many seniors either responded, “I don’t have a grandson” or “I just saw him last night.” Embarrassing and inefficient, this one is.
Banking swindles are potentially very profitable, says the police officer. They certainly are. If I didn’t know the name of their bank, and I usually didn’t, I’d call and say, “This is the vice president of your bank notifying you there have been several overdrafts from your checking account, and you must pay nine hundreds dollars by noon today or we’ll close your account and ruin your credit rating. No, it’s too late to mail it. And no need to drive here through this rain and traffic. I’ll stop by and pick up your check.” That was much quicker than waiting for envelopes that usually didn’t come but rather risky, and two detectives once greeted me and that’s how I went to prison the first time.
Beware door to door salespeople, states the cop. That’s true. I won’t even open the door for those critters. Too many good people opened theirs for me. I showed glossy magazines and sold hundreds of subscriptions that were never filled, and a few dozen solar panels that somehow never arrived. A friend, a fellow con, that is, suggested I move into smoke detectors. “You’ve got to have one, ma’am, or the city will fine you five hundred dollars. And in order to protect my license, I’m obligated to tell them. Why not pay four hundred dollars now, and we’ll install them for you next week? Okay, you’ve already got some alarms, but how old are they? Better let me check.”
She invited me in and I activated a cigarette lighter next to a detector in the living room and said, “See, this thing’s dead as a doornail.” The alarm soon sounded and the damn fire station must’ve been around the corner because sirens screamed in about a minute. I ran out, pointed to the house, and yelled at the firemen, “Hurry and get in there.”
Be careful about the social media, that’s a new world, says the officer. It’s not that new. Fifteen years ago I played the dating game on several sites like Love.net. I didn’t go for home runs in this sad game. I avoided the prettiest women, though they were no doubt lonely, too, and concentrated on average or even homely ladies who looked vulnerable and stated as much in their profiles. On my page I’d posted pictures of some stud far more handsome and robust than I’d ever been, and sweet talked these ladies online and later by phone and was amazed how soon they called me honey, and flabbergasted that several sent me four-figure sums so I could take care of debts or buy airplane tickets to come and visit them.
The identity theft industry emerged near the end of my career. Other than navigating the dating sites I wasn’t computer savvy. I simply knew lots of cons who knew many others and learned to buy people’s stolen identity. This was the best scam yet: no more grinding phone calls or nasty dogs or nosy neighbors watching as I knocked on too many doors that stayed closed. Now I got Joe Smith’s social security number and banking and credit card information, and soon his credit card, and bought clothes and TVs and cruise tickets and sold his vacation home and prepared to pay cash for my first house where, when I backed up my rental truck full of goodies, those guys in square suits said, “Welcome to the big house.”
Source: The general points embellished in this story were presented by a representative of the Bakersfield Police Department in the Kern City neighborhood on December eighth, 2015.