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Scam mailers often prey on the elderly
By STEPHANIE TAIT
She lost $6,000 before he could stop her.
A Stafford County man's 87-year-old mother, who is in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, wrote more than 150 checks to various mail-order companies over a two-month period before her son realized what she was doing.
"I was extremely upset," he said. "She used to come banging on my door, thinking she'd won."
What she thought she won was anything from a grand prize of $25,000 to a free vacation and merchandise.
She hadn't won a thing. Fact is, she was losing money daily.
John did not want his last name identified, in order to protect his mother's privacy. He said he hopes that his talking about the experience will help others avoid similar problems.
He said he didn't notice his mother's problem at first.
"I live right across the street from her and all of a sudden, she started getting half a shoe box full of junk mail every day," he said.
Martin Davis, an inspector with the U.S. Postal Service's Washington Division, investigates such operations.
These junk-mail companies are very profitable, he says.
"It's a science," Davis said. "They identify people who fall for this stuff, some people just can't throw it away."
While there are different ways for these companies to make money, John's mother lost hers gradually.
She would respond to letters telling her to send in $20 in order to learn how to get her grand prize.
"What happened was, she'd write checks for like $20 or $15, then sign the slip of paper and send them in," said John, who now has power of attorney and handles her finances. "Then the people would use her signature to debit more money from her account."
Jackie Ruble, branch manager of a local BB&T, said banks act as the "middle man" between a customer and a business.
"Banks assume that clients have given their OK when money is taken out," Ruble said. "If not and the customer gets a statement and sees unauthorized debits, they come and tell us and we investigate it."
Ruble said the best way to avoid these situations is to safeguard personal information.
"It's an electronic world," she said. "Never sign anything, never agree to anything or your setting yourself up for a hard time."