As September turned to October in 2016, and the one year anniversary of Mark’s death came and went, leaving us emotionally shipwrecked once again, we found that our involvement in my MIL’s life was turning into a nearly daily adventure. Her Alzheimer’s was slowly worsening, leaving her unable to keep track of time. She refused to change clothes, wasn’t showering. She was driving less and less as time went by (only once between mid-September and mid-October)…but we were still terrified, and began to plan how to remove the car (again). And to anticipate how terribly difficult that would be (again).
We have online access to her bank and credit accounts – thank GOD – and noted a lot of activity on her debit and credit cards; weird, since she almost never left her building. When I checked her phone records online (see below), it all made sense: I found that “sham” charities (where almost 0% of the donations actually go to charitable causes, or it’s not a charity at all) had been targeting her HARD. Some of them were calling her 4, 5 and 10 times a day. She could not remember that she had JUST pledged money when they called 20 minutes before. Fortunately, her frugality is well-ingrained and she only offered up $5 here and $15 there, but it was adding up to hundreds of dollars a month.
OH MY GOSH. This REALLY pissed me off. And if a mom gets pissed off, there is No Finer Detective.
I found out I could log into my MIL’s cable/phone company website and review all calls received and all calls placed; further, that I could block up to 25 numbers and forward another 20. So I was able to identify most of the worst offenders and cut off their access to her completely; those 20 callers who were forwarded to my phone got a lovely little speech from the “old lady” who asked them, firmly, to remove her from their lists. I was amazed that they all agreed.
But in late October, it got exponentially worse. Predators were calling her and convincing her she had a computer virus; at least one of them managed to walk her through the steps to allow him to remotely access her hard drive. We found this out too late – we went away for the weekend, and she called us (which she rarely does), very confused, and we asked what was wrong and she said, “I’m not sure…but I think Steve’s computer has a virus. Or something.” Fortunately, she has almost zero personal data on her computer, but apparently they found just enough to start causing great mischief.
We hustled back from the beach and shut down her desktop, telling her it was “broken.” Heartbreak. She does have an iPad for playing Solitaire; when we checked it, we found there were 48 open tabs in the browser, all for the same web page: “Are you experiencing memory problems?” Heartbreak.
A few days later, I tried to log into her cable/phone account to look for additional signs of harassing phone calls, and I could not get in. Her account had been hacked.
Once I managed to log in, I found that this Evil Person had forwarded all of my MIL’s phone calls to a cell phone registered in Miami. What?! I blocked the cell phone number and forwarded all future incoming calls to my number. I decided to immediately sign Sally up for Lifelock. Not a moment too soon.
Within 48 hours I got an alert from Lifelock. An application had been submitted for 4 credit cards – 3 department stores and a Marvel Mastercard. Two of the cards had already been issued, I eventually found out, while the 2 others were not due to questionable data provided by the applicant (ya think?). Another alert arrived from Lifelock: were we trying to change the home address to one in Miami, FL?
I called Experian and I called the police.
Two cute Marvel Mastercards arrived at my MIL’s apartment a few days later, with the name of the perpetrator nicely stamped on one card, and my MIL’s name on the other. The mailing address on the envelope had been hastily stickered -over by someone at the card issuing company who apparently got word at the last minute that the Miami address was incorrect.
Unfortunately, the case remains open and I cannot get the detective to call me back, so I am not sure how this will all play out. But we have a name, and an address, and a clear method of attack. The charge is identity theft. The officer seemed hopeful, initially. I’m hoping the wheels of justice, even if slow, will still turn until this ends.
On October 29th, I took her car from its usual spot and hid it in the parking garage, just to see if she would notice it was gone. She didn’t – like an aging homing pigeon, she has gotten to where she rarely left her familiar nest. We sold it days later. More sadness as that door, her final little bit of independence, swung firmly shut.
Stay wary, friends. And please start to lay the groundwork now: ask your parent(s) to sign a document that designates the person they trust to take away the car when that time comes. If you cannot get a durable power of attorney, ask your parents for permission to access and review their electronic bank records with them. Ask if they get too many “charity” calls; look at their recent calls list on their home phone. These scumbags will stop at nothing, and you shouldn’t stop doing whatever you can to protect those you love.