Possible Elder Scam: What Would You Do?

In travel, we sometimes find ourselves uncomfortably in the midst of someone’s personal affairs. It’s an issue I’m struggling with right now. I’m in Tucson, Arizona, in the over-55 resort community in which my mother lives. And a woman who lives here is celebrating a budding romance.

But here’s the thing: it seems fishy to me.

ice-skating-amsterdam-frozen-canals-netherlands-holland-7

This is the photo the woman received from her beau on her telephone yesterday. He claims this photo was taken yesterday in Venice, Italy. After an internet search, we found this was taken in Amsterdam in 2012. Photo credit: twisted sifter.com.

Details are sketchy on how the two met, but since this relationship unfolded they have not seen one another in person or via video, and in the course of less than eight weeks this long-distance affair has heated up considerably. I’m scared for this elderly widow, afraid someone is taking advantage of her or setting her up to lose her life’s savings. But I’m not even close enough to her to be considered a friend, she has no reason to trust me, and frankly, it’s none of my business.

So I’m wondering; what would you do?

Here are the facts.

  • She and her new beau talk on the phone, via an app he had her download, twice a day. He frequently sends her digital flowers and photographs.
  • She has only one picture of him. I have never seen it.
  • He says he lives in San Polo in Venice, Italy and owns a business. He says he has a car there. He has told her San Polo is a neighborhood nowhere near the Grand Canal, and that there are roads that cars can use there. Fact check: San Polo is located right on the Grand Canal. I’m having difficulty determining whether it is pedestrian-only in that particular neighborhood.
  • He recently told her he was traveling to Africa. He called her to tell her he was leaving for the airport. Hours later, she received a call from someone who said her beau had been in a terrible car accident, and she should send money. To her credit, she did not. She called the hospital, in Africa, where they said he was getting care, to verify he was there. He wasn’t. The person who answered the phone told her not to send money, “That’s not how we work.” Her beau called her the following day. She asked how the people who called her were able to reach her, he said they had used his phone.
  • She has arranged to fly to Italy, and has had to change her ticket three times, at great personal expense, due to emergencies her beau says he has experienced. Among them: the unexpected business trip to Africa, the auto accident and hospitalization in Africa, and the unexpected death of his father, which occurred the morning she was most recently scheduled to leave for Italy, just before Christmas.
  • Her beau sends her photos of Venice, and tells her it is the snowiest winter in history there. Fact check: The weather almanac here: https://weather.com/weather/monthly/l/Venice+Italy+ITXX0085:1:IT shows there has been no snow in December or January, but there is a chance of rain or snow forecast for January 10.
  • He sent her a photo of people ice skating on the canals, which he said was taken yesterday. (She noted that “they” call the canals “rivers” in Venice – which I question, having been to Venice myself.) Luckily, she showed the image to us. Fact check: The picture looked familiar to both me and my mother, and more like Amsterdam than Venice to me. With a quick Google search on the sly we found it: an image of people ice skating on the canals in Amsterdam, Netherlands during an epic cold snap in 2012. See the photo above. Additional Fact Check: The weather almanac here: https://weather.com/weather/monthly/l/Venice+Italy+ITXX0085:1:IT Daytime temperatures averaged in the high 40s in December and the low 40s in January, far too warm to sustain ice thick enough to skate upon in the canals.

This widow is convinced the relationship is real, and she is not open to other people’s thoughts, questions, or opinions. She does not have any close family. And she is determined to book another ticket to Italy.

Yet evidence indicates something fishy is going on, and so-called “romance scams” are common, with elderly, widowed women a primary target.

We do not know for certain whether she has already sent this person money. We do know she has incurred personal expenses as a result of all of the plane ticket changes.

If we truly feel that she is a victim of a scam, what is our responsibility? Is it our business? Knowing this will break her heart and will likely cause feelings of shame and embarrassment, and possible anger toward us, how should we handle this situation?


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Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning travel and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to individuals and organizations.

Find Charish on Twitter: @charishb

Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

 

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8 thoughts on “Possible Elder Scam: What Would You Do?

  1. I would tell her. Prove to her that the image was from Amsterdam. That is the first thing. Show her examples of other people being scammed. Check the app phone number if that is possible.. You can do it! I have faith!
    Love you!

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  2. Have you done a check of his name online? She sounds lonely so probably wants to believe the best in this situation. I Agee in that showing her this happens frequently might be helpful. Good luck. She’s lucky you and your mom are aware of this!

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    1. Unfortunately, we only know the first name he is going by. I really would love to get my hands on the photo she has of him, and he also sent her an image of his birth certificate, so odd. I could do an image search and solve this in minutes if I had that data. Thanks for the input! It’s a very concerning situation.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting. I would call the proper people, mainly the police or find a number to report fraud on the elderly. Yes, she sounds lonely and wants to believe that the relationship is real, but I feel that in her heart, she knows it is not. She does not want to look foolish. The app thing always throws me. Is it untraceable? Is it private like snap chat, and goes away after a day or so? I do not think it is “none of our business.” I think it is everyone’s business to protect others so they may not be taken advantage of, that is illegal. In my nursing career, we are trained to see that the family (in hospice care) does not take advantage of someone that can not think clearly of their own thoughts. She may not be thinking clearly? He obviously is a great manipulator and knows the right way to “woo” this gal. This thing is common. I guess I would ask myself…….if someone was using someones insurance card and I knew about the fraud, would I report it? If your answer is yes, then contact the authorities, If a stranger tells you that they think someone may be slowly taking advantage of you and may try to solicit moneys from you, how would you respond to that stranger? If you may get angry at first at the nerve of someone meddling in your personal business, then ask yourself, would you be grateful later after they saved you thousands of moneys in extortion? You and your mother will do the right thing, you are honest and caring people.

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    1. I reached out to the local Elder Services agency, and they have promised to get back to me. Our hope is that they will have tips for how to address this with her. Her personality is such that she isn’t very open to other people’s points of view, and she quickly gets angry/frustrated. I’m hoping we can have enough evidence to at least convince her not to send him any money. She is pretty deeply entrenched, emotionally, with this situation.

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  4. Wow, some great suggestions here. Seems everyone urges you to “take some action,” and I agree. We all need to look out for each other. She may be angry and not believe you, but I think you should still try. Since she didn’t send money to the hospital, she probably has her doubts deep down, too. There are way too many red flags here to ignore, and too many predators out there for good people not to act. Good luck.

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    1. Thank you so much for your input, Paul! It is helpful that everyone seems to be on the same page about this. I hate to meddle, but it’s important to remember, as you said, that we all need to look out for each other. Thank you!

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