103 Year Old Womans Hands
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My Mom Is Lonely

And the con artists know it.

I walked into my mom’s apartment last night, and there was another box. The seventh such box in as many months, delivered UPS or FedEx, small or large, still closed or already ripped opened. But there it sat. My heart beat faster.

First, some context. Mom is 88. Two years ago, her neurologist told us she had mild cognitive impairment and must stop driving. She’d been living in a senior apartment complex and driving to concerts, lectures and plays; to my house for dinner and babysitting; to doctor’s appointments, Bed Bath and Beyond, and the Giant. (Granted, she’d call me every week or so to ask me where she was — “There’s a Dollar Tree on my right and a school on my left.”) Oh, the devastation and arguments over giving up her car! She moved to a lovely independent living facility with music and speakers, movies and clubs, outings to theaters and stores, breakfast and dinner served every night.

At first, she went to activities and on outings when she remembered, and dinner every night. But she never made friends, and her hearing aids, fairly useless, exacerbated the isolation. (She tried new hearing aids for $6,830; if you find them, let me know.)

The last several months, she has rarely even made it down to dinner. She doesn’t want to get out of bed — “It’s so cozy!” (I know, right?) Depression, her doctor says. And no longer mild cognitive impairment; nope, she has progressed to dementia.

So, when the phone rings, she engages. She becomes her former very extroverted, very (very) chatty self. Unfortunately, today, besides me and my 11-year-old, the only people who call her are scammers. You probably get these calls, get irritated and hang up. Not so, Mom.

Mom chats. They’re very smart. They listen and ask caring questions. And then they offer a little brace so her back doesn’t ache, a supportive sleeve so her arm feels stronger, a knee brace so she doesn’t feel wobbly, a hand and wrist brace for that old thumb injury. And they listen some more. The supplies are all free, they tell her. She doesn’t need to provide her credit card number or send a check. It’s all covered by insurance. Sure, she says. And they listen and commiserate some more. And she gives her address. The pitch takes some investment on the scammers’ part: Calls last 26 minutes, 32 minutes, 48 minutes. (I snoop on her phone and then block the numbers.)

Then comes the box. And the charges, as promised, to Medicare. Landmark Medical charged $1,285. Assured Medical Supply, $1,959. CPI Bracing Supply, $3,500. Patterson & Associates, LLC, $572. United Health-wear, $890. Westside Medical Bracing, $890.

This is real money — ours, the taxpayers — and these are real companies, preying on the elderly, the lonely, the demented. And they know it. Today, when I called Landmark Medical about yesterday’s delivery, without prompting, the kindly representative said if the salespeople are pestering Mom, I should report it to my insurance company. (The helpful rep has probably been fired by now.) She promised I’d receive the return label, needed to return the box and credit insurance companies, in three to four days. Hah. It took me several calls and 30 minutes to get through the first time. I’ll probably have to make several more calls to remind them, and even then, I may not get the return label. If I do, I’ll run the package to FedEx — another hour errand. I’ll call Medicare and her secondary insurance — that will take, in the end, a few hours. But it doesn’t help much. When I got the first box, seven months ago, I called immediately and told Medicare to flag Mom’s account in case other fraudulent bills for medical supplies or durable medical equipment came in. I was told there’s no mechanism to do that. Bills come in, bills get paid.

So you see why, last night, my heart started pounding when I spotted that box. Angry and frustrated, I took a deep breath and patiently reminded Mom to never answer the phone when she doesn’t recognize the number, and to never give out her mailing address or any personal information over the phone. “Oh,” she responded, as if I’d never told her before.

The knee brace company implied it was my fault because Mom had a phone. Maybe. But I refuse to take anything else away from her. She has lost enough.

Protect Your Loved One

Medicare and insurance fraud, robocalls, and much more: Learn how to protect yourself and your family in AARP’s new book, Scam Me If You Can, by Frank Abagnale, that renowned fraudster-turned-fraud expert who wrote the New York Times best seller Catch Me If You Can. Find the book where books are sold or at AARP.org/ScamMeIfYouCan, where AARP members can also read a free chapter.

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