Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Scammed!

By Annette Dashofy

I had an opportunity to meet our local police chief last week. He’s relatively new to the area and I’ve stopped at the station a couple of times, but he was out on patrol.

Needing to call 9-1-1 to bring him to my mom’s house was NOT how I’d envisioned our first meeting.

Last Tuesday, my mom phoned me to ask if the water company had just been at my house. I replied, “No.” After all, we don’t have city water. She then went on to tell me that a guy had been at her house and wanted to check her water. He had an elaborate story about how they were going to lay pipe behind her house the next day and he needed to make sure her well water wasn’t contaminated.

If you’re like me, you’re thinking, wouldn’t you have HEARD that your property was about to be dug up for water or sewer lines? And why would the well water be contaminated before any work was done?

The man who appeared to be Hispanic and spoke with an accent, then asked Mom to go into the bathroom to flush the toilet, which she did. It’s a small house. It didn’t take long. He took her into the kitchen to run hot and cold water. All the time, he was telling her how they would be using big generators and setting up lights in the pasture behind her house.

Mom says it sounded fishy, but she didn’t know what to do.

My first question was “Is this guy still there?” She said he wasn’t. She also seemed quite stunned when I told her I was calling the cops.

I’m still shaking my head. I thought I had her trained. I thought she knew better than to let a stranger with no uniform, no ID, and driving an unmarked van into her house. (Insert gnashing of teeth and screams of frustration from yours truly here)

I live two doors away, so I hoofed it over there after notifying 9-1-1. Her purse had been sitting on the kitchen chair, but it was untouched. Her meager spending money was still inside as were her car and house keys.

The local township’s chief of police is a really nice guy. He didn’t laugh when Mom told him her tale and I sat with my eyes closed, shaking my head. Instead, he called the station to verify there were no work orders for the water company or the gas company in our area.

There weren’t.

But the water company IS laying line a few miles south of here and have been for several months. Mom has seen them. And that was just enough to give this scam artist’s story a hint of credibility in her mind.

My mom was lucky. As far as we can tell, nothing was stolen. She wasn’t hurt. The only thing stolen from her that day was her sense of peace and safety.

Mom says the guy was talking on a cell phone the whole time. I have to wonder if he had a partner out in the van and if he’d spotted something in the house nicer than her 10-year-old cell phone, her 20 year old TV set and her obsolete VCR, might he have signaled to the partner to come in? I don’t know. I probably don’t want to know.

And lest you think this is a crime against the elderly, a couple in their forties was hit the next day and money was stolen.

Be on your guard. DO NOT LET ANYONE IN YOUR HOUSE. Workmen carry ID and drive marked vehicles.

My mom has learned (I hope) to NOT be nice. She said the guy was so polite and had a nice smile. And she asked him if he was legit (after he was already in the house!). He told her “yes.”

“What the hell did you expect him to say?” I asked her.

I have a few more gray hairs today than I did last week.

On the other hand, the chief invited to come down to the station to pick his brain about my novel anytime I want.

23 comments:

jwhit said...

Glad it all worked out for your mom. That's scary.

A friend here was followed home from shopping, but didn't know it. She went in the house, put her purse on a counter in the laundry, then went about her business. When she came back, her purse was gone.

Several days later, the police arrested the woman who had dyed her hair and cut it to look like my friend so she could use her ID and credit card.

So not only do you have to be careful with someone who comes to your door, but also someone from out in the street.

Lock your doors.

Tory said...

Congrats, Annette, now you have one more contact person to help you with your novel.

If you've read the book _Gift of Fear_ you'll know how often people who've had a crime committed against them say, "He was such a nice guy!" Ick!

Annette said...

Jan, that's exactly what I've been telling my mom. LOCK YOUR DOOR!

Tory, I have read GIFT OF FEAR and am going to buy a copy for my mom!

Joyce said...

This scam is SO common. One guy usually keeps the homeowner busy, while the other guy cleans them out. Elderly people often keep cash in their bedrooms and that's usually the first place the thieves check.

Hey, who knows? Maybe your mom charmed the would-be thief so much, he couldn't bear to take anything!

Kathryn Craft said...

Annette:
Great post--good story, important message. Balancing the desire to be friendly and the need to protect oneself is tough, though, don't be too hard on poor mom! That "making nice" often equals "vulnerable" is a hard pill for many women to swallow.

I doubt she needs to read the Gift of Fear at this point. I bet that particular gift is now sewn write into her skin, and that she understands the potential danger in a more visceral way than your verbal warnings were able to achieve.

jenifer said...

So glad your mom is okay, and great idea to get her Gift of Fear!

I know how stupid it can make you feel, though, to doubt someone who comes to your door. A couple years ago a guy got out of an unmarked van he had parked in my driveway and rang the doorbell.

I had just gotten home and was there alone. I ignore him. He pounded on the door saying he was from our local power company, but he still freaked my out.

I was watching out the window, and when I saw him stop a neighbor on the sidewalk to talk to him, I went out the front door to see what he wanted, figuring outside, with other people around, I'd be safe.

It turns out a downed power line was resting on the chain-link fence we share with our neighbors, making the fence most likely highly electrified, so I was glad I had gotten his message finally. I did feel stupid for doubting (especially since that doubt might have killed me), but in the end it still felt like the right thing to now answer my door.

And how stupid is the electric company to send people out in no uniform/unmarked van, even in times of emergency when staffing is short?

Annette said...

Kathryn, I think you're right. And I've tried not to be too hard on her, yet stress that you don't have to be "nice." The police chief was terrific. He told her if she doesn't know the person at the door to call 9-1-1 and he will be there within minutes. He said older people feel like they're "bothering" the police. But that's their job. I think they'd rather respond to a dozen false alarms than one battery or homicide.

Annette said...

Jenifer, that was definitely weird. The utilities generally aways combine the marked vehicle with a uniform and some sort of ID badge. Shame on them if they don't. You did the right thing, absolutely!

After my mom's incident, the water company did issue a bulletin in the local paper that scam artists were in the area claiming to be them and they warned that they never show up without those three methods of identifying themselves.

Annette said...

Jeez, I need a proofreader. I meant they ALWAYS combine, etc, not AWAYS. Need. More. Coffee.

Kathy Otten said...

Annette,
Great post. My mom lives all alone too, but I don't live nearby. I'd like to think she wouldn't let someone in her house like that, but now I think I'll warn her, just incase.

Annette said...

That's exactly why I wanted to blog about the experience. I never dreamt my mom would let a stranger into her house. Everyone with elderly parents need to relate this story to them. Don't assume it only happens to other people.

We harp on our kids about not talking to strangers. This is the grown-up version we need to preach to our parents.

Krista said...

Thank goodness your mother is fine!

There was just an article in the local paper about this exact scenario. It has happened locally for times in recent weeks. Everyone needs to be on the alert.

Donnell said...

Annette, you will do ANYTHING to meet the police chief, won't you ;) Your poor mom, and those poor thugs if Annette ever gets hold of them! Thanks for making us step back and think.

It's scary when someone comes to your doorstep. My DH travels quite a bit and when my kids were small I was awakened out of a dead sleep with someone pounding on my door. A man was literally banging, and saying, "Let me in." I grabbed my kids close and said what do you want, while dialing 911 of course. Dispatch told me absolutely do not let him in.

I live on a roundabout, and turns out the night was typical wintry Colorado and black ice was all around. The man had taken the curve too fast and his vehicle slammed into a tree. His wife was trapped in the car with broken legs. It was a horrible experience, and it's terrible we can't do the humane thing and come to someone's aid. But Dispatch was firm, and he was in shock and not explaining. He just kept shouting let me in.... Great post, Annette.

Krista said...

Could you lend me your proofreader? That should be "four" times!

Anonymous said...

Holy crow, that's scary!

I have to admit that I'm not diligent enough about that kind of thing. From now on, I'm asking for ID before I let anyone in.

Thanks for the timely warning!

xo
Kathy from SIXburgh

Anonymous said...

Annette,
good post and a great reminder that we need to be on guard. If only our older parents listen to us!
Luckily, our neighbor works for the water company so I know what their trucks look like. Now, if we can only keep out politicians before elections!
Doris

Annette said...

Krista, trust me, you don't want MY proofreader.

Donnell, yeah, I will do anything for the sake of research. Seriously, though, you did the right thing by calling 911. The guy got help and you stayed out of trouble.

Anonymous said...

This is a good (in the not so good sense) cautionary tale. PA Water and it's subsidiaries have put out alerts that this is a large scam going on. I hope they don't get too many people.

Kristine said...

What a scary situation, Annette. Your mom was so lucky.

I've heard so many things about GIFT OF FEAR. I absolutely must add it to my shopping list.

Kathleen said...

To quote Frank Barone, "Holy Crap!" This is very, VERY scary. I'm glad that everything worked out okay.

I had my mom read this post!

Annette said...

Kathleen, GOOD. I'm glad you had your mom read it. That was the idea. I don't want anyone else to let one of these creeps into their homes.

Kristine, GIFT OF FEAR is an excellent book. Definitely add it to your reading list.

Lorna Barrett said...

A couple of weeks ago, I answered my parents phone and a voice said he was coming to check out my Dad's oxygen. I told him he'd better have an ID. I was about to leave for home, but decided to stay. When the man arrived, he did have a marked van, a uniform, and was wearing his ID. He told me he usually never wears his ID, but since I had told him I expected it, he did. He was offended that I would ask for ID. I told him I value my elderly parents, and was trying to train them not to trust everyone who came to their door.

Annette said...

Lorna, it's amazing that service personal get offended when someone asks for ID! You cannot be too careful. Good for you for sticking to your guns.