Ned Cantwell: State columnist
The corporate thugs who screwed Enron employees out of their retirement savings are saints compared to these guys. Your daughter brings home one of these guys and you tell her to go out and find someone nicer, like maybe a paid assassin.
We’re talking about the cruds who cozy up to lonely old women on the telephone, gain their confidence, and bilk them out of 20 bucks, maybe a hundred, maybe thousands.
The cons are at work. It’s happening in Farmington. In Los Alamos. In Carlsbad, Clovis, Deming and Belen. It’s happening in your town, and it may be happening to your mother.
An organization that investigates this stuff estimates there are 14,000 illegal telemarketing operations bilking U.S. citizens out of at least $40 billion annually. Surveys by AARP reveal that more than half of telemarketing fraud victims are age 50 or older.
The con man — let’s call him Sleazeball — works hard to make grandma like him before he tries to get into her pocketbook. She is eager to tell him about the kids and grandkids and, believe me, Sleazeball is jotting it all down.
So, on maybe the second or third call, he might ask if she has heard “from Susan and the kids in San Antonio.” The hook has been set and Sleazeball tells her about the $10,000 cash prize she has won. All she needs to do is pay a pay a $900 handling fee that a courier will pick up this afternoon.
Wait a minute, here. Grandma is no easy touch. She tells the guy she wants to check this out with her son, her lawyer, her accountant. Sleazeball has heard all this before. “And, ma’am, by golly, I don’t blame you. That is exactly what you should do. But, darn it, the time limit on this prize offer expires this afternoon and I can’t wait because I have to take my little girl to First Communion practice. So, I’ll just go now and if another chance like this comes up, I will…”
“Hold on there a moment. You seem like such a nice young man….”
Before this goes to print, some Sleazeball will have come up with a new scheme, but now in vogue are free prizes, discounted vacations, worthless vitamins, investments. Anyone who has ever bought a lottery ticket understands the desire to get rich quick, and Sleazeball knows grandma is no different.
Once cheated, many victims, especially older ones, just do not want to admit it. They are embarrassed. Or, worse, they refuse to believe they have been hoodwinked. A friend of mine in a position to know tells of a lady in his southern New Mexico community who has written a series of checks to a Sleazeball but won’t stop even after her son has counseled her.
There are some warning signs. If you walk into your widowed grandma’s home and she acts quite secretively about the phone call she is on, grandma may have a new boyfriend or she may be giving away her Social Security check.
Once Sleazeball is caught, we need to remember he is innocent until proven guilty. Hanging him on the spot might be OK, too.
Ned Cantwell is a retired newspaperman living in Ruidoso. He welcomes response at: