Weekend Wanderer: Feeling the Squeeze in the ‘Scam-wich’ Generation

weekend wanderer

The long and short of this story is the scammer got my parents to purchase $2,000 worth of Best Buy gift cards.

And they gave him access to their bank accounts.

And let him move in with them. My mom baked him her famous cheesecake tarts, and my dad turned over the remote control.

OK. That last part might be hyperbole. But it’s not far off.

Senior citizens are bilked out of $3 billion annually, according to the FBI. It’s nice when your octogenarian parents do their part to contribute.

The scam played out very much like this one, profiled by The New York Times. The scammer called Mother on her cell phone.

I know calling her “Mother” makes me sound like Norman Bates. But she says I’m not as funny as I think I am when I call her “Mommie Dearest.” She’s really left me no choice.

I’ve nicknamed the scammer Keyser Soze. He’s the notorious criminal from The Usual Suspects. CNN once said the character has become eponymous for people we’ve never met but terrify us anyway.

I’m not exactly afraid of Keyser Soze. More like significantly angry with him. Ooh … maybe I’m his Keyser Soze! I mean, I’d rather be Captain Kirk to his Khan, but there are only so many problems I can fix at a time.

Anyway, once Keyser Soze had Mother on the phone, he tricked her into loading screen-sharing software onto the computer.

I just want to say here that Mother recently had trouble joining a Zoom gathering. I offered to share her screen, to walk her through the steps of logging into the event.

I got in trouble for that because Mother NEVER shares her screen. With anyone.

Except anonymous callers with unfamiliar phone numbers.

Keyser Soze made it appear Mother had made a payment error in her bank account. Keyser Soze said there was just one way to fix the error.

Best Buy gift cards.

The AARP says people like Keyser Soze are successful because victimized seniors feel stupid once they realize they’ve been scammed. They fear their children will take control of their finances.

The children in this case will not be taking over any finances. But we will be receiving Best Buy gift cards for Christmas.

Realizing the scam, Mother stopped short of giving Keyser Soze the gift card numbers. I tried to return the gift cards, but it’s a Sisyphean struggle. You’re more likely to get Mother to share her computer screen than you are to ever get a refund for gift cards.

I spent most of Monday morning fixing the damage wrought by Keyser Soze. Mother had already alerted her bank, who moved her money into new accounts.

Wisely, the bank told Mother there was no need to change her banking login. You know, the login Keyser Soze was able to obtain through screen-sharing. The login Keyser Soze had already used to move money around within the accounts. The login providing access to the new accounts.

If I could put an eye-roll emoji in here, I would.

I suggested we head to the bank and shut everything down, just start over with new accounts.

My dad wondered if we’d get a toaster for opening new accounts.

You can’t really blame the guy for speculating. The last time my dad did any banking was in 1967. His account was in the bank next to the Greyhound bus depot where he worked. There was a cute bank teller whose line he’d always wait in, no matter how long. He invited her to the Marine Corps Ball.

Yes. His bank teller was my mom.

You can see why he thought a toaster would be easier.

As I headed home later, I wasn’t confident Keyser Soze had been eradicated from my parents’ lives. I pondered how much financial independence my parents should actually have. It’s a wretched feeling, knowing how close your parents came to financial ruin. I was thinking of the one thing that could make it better.

Best Buy gift cards.

Just kidding. Starbucks. Starbucks would ease the disquiet that had plagued me since I heard about Keyser Soze and his little scam. It would also give me the jolt I needed to finish out the day.

Unable to sleep out of worry for my parents, I’d been up since 2:30. I still had an afternoon of parenting and work ahead of me, fueled by just a few hours’ sleep.

As I was daydreaming of Starbucks, a text rolled across my phone. My boss.

It was good news. Praise. A benchmark I had worked hard to achieve. A goal made all the more difficult to attain by my parents’ failing health, my children’s pandemic schooling, COVID.

And I thought that this is what sandwich generation means, having the triumphs happen between the struggles.

I just didn’t think that sandwich would happen in the space of the same hour.

My phone rang at six this morning. Mother’s cell. That’s never a good sign.

But it was just an accidental call. She apologized for shattering the early morning quiet with an unnecessary phone call.

I told her it wasn’t the worst thing she’d done this week.

She didn’t laugh.

Apparently, I’m not as funny as I think I am.

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