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The big con

(41 Posts)
Kiora Fri 17-Jan-14 08:47:55

I am asking the grans who are a little older than me for some insight and advice. My mother-in-law 84. Has for the last 5/6 years been 'buying' sweets by mail order on the premise that she is about to win a larger sum of money. They telephone her saying the cheque is about to be signed..any day. It must be obvious that there is no chance of this happening. She is also buying miniature cars, Lorries, eggs and now coins. She has boxes and boxes of them all over the house. Most not even opened. She was alway careful with money almost mean. She would walk ten minutes to another shop to save 1p. We have tried every way to convince her she is being conned or is wasting her money because no one will ever want this stuff. One of her sons told her it will all end up in the skip in the end. The sweets and cakes are going mouldy. She won't even give them to a worthwhile charity before they spoil. We have just heard that her sister in the states is doing exactly the same thing on a much larger scale. She gets tons and tons of junk mail asking for money, or trying to persuade her to buy more shite. They are a family of hoarders and I mean you can hardly move . Their houses are full to the brim of rubbish that has never been used and never will. So perhaps it's something to do with this type of personality. I hope so because I'd hate this to happen to me. My question is WHY? And is there anything we can do to stop it. It's the fact that someone somewhere is conning her that upsets me.

JessM Fri 17-Jan-14 09:02:43

My cousin's FIL got addicted to something similar, kept thinking he was going to win a lot of money. He was obviously on a list and was continuously targeted. A lot of money went out of the bank account (which could not be afforded) and his wife was at wits end. In the end their son had to put a blocking device on their phone and redirect all mail. I think it is a kind of addiction, like doing slot machines, where you are gulled into thinking you will win something significant.
I suspect it is carefully crafted - well it must be, to be so successful.
Based on Skinner's work on conditioning. If you reward a behaviour it will be "reinforced" and the behaviour will become stronger. If you reward intermittently the effect is even more pronounced. The behaviour will be repeated. One armed bandits work on this principle - small rewards intermittently keep the behaviour going.

JessM Fri 17-Jan-14 09:09:19

Perhaps should have added that it is a kind of gambling addiction, no different to machines, horses, online poker etc, but one which has been carefully designed to target elderly, vulnerable people. Nasty but probably not illegal.

Granniepam Fri 17-Jan-14 09:23:54

My mum has lived alone for many years and is a very sociable person, she really thrives on having lots of visitors. She includes the postman in her list of friends as he brings so many little "treats" for her - ie things she has bought by mail order. These purchases are a big talking point and she does give most of them away - except for all the bulbs, they got planted ( by some of her visitors.) Her garden is a picture. The family is in two minds as to whether we should gently dissuade her from some of her more excessive purchases. The monthly boxes of chocolates really do need to stop!

BlueBelle Fri 17-Jan-14 09:29:05

My mum got a little conned in a way by not ticking some box to opt out of something I wrote to the source and told htem if they didnt stop sending (books) I was taking it to a solicitor They stopped

Nelliemoser Fri 17-Jan-14 09:34:06

Kiora you must stop her doing this. This is fraud and financial abuse of vulnerable people. Given what I have heard its likely to get worse.

The people who tend to carry out these scams actually target vulnerable people and when they get people who respond then tend to send details to other scammers as "an easy target."

Collect any paper work from them she might have which might prove evidence of how they are failing to provide what "services" they have promised her.

Your local councils trading standard might do this stuff as well it might be worth talking to them
Look at the following sites who tend to be clued up about this stuff.

The Radio 4 you and yours consumer program has covered this subject quite recently and may have good advice to help you with this. you can contact teh at eth above website.

I really do suggest you need to do something.
or she could lose a lot more money.

Kiora Fri 17-Jan-14 09:41:42

She would tell me very firmly (she can still be quite venomous ) to mind my own business what she does with her money is her business. Should I ( or one of us) do it behind her back? What do you think? hmm

JessM Fri 17-Jan-14 09:49:26

Difficult. People in their 80s can be no less stubborn than the rest of us. And addictions make people very defensive.
Does she do all her bill paying and managing her bank account by herself or does she get any help? (i.e. does anyone else have access to bank statements?)
is this addiction currently undermining her financial security or don't you know?
From my cousins' experience - very hard to stop unless you have some real control as the companies will try everything to keep in contact.

Granniepam Fri 17-Jan-14 09:56:04

Kiora, I agree with Nelliemoser, if you feel your MIL is being conned. My mum is very aware of what she's doing, my brother has power of attorney to be used when necessary and she openly discusses her finances (fortunately they are healthy.) She doesn't buy "services", doesn't have a credit card and likes to shop, albeit for rubbish some of the time.

Granniepam Fri 17-Jan-14 09:58:59

If you do have access to bank statements, be very aware of anything she may be buying by a regular payment from a debit card - once these are set up they are very difficult to stop.

jinglbellsfrocks Fri 17-Jan-14 10:00:17

Grannypam Don't stop the monthly box of chocolates!!! shock

Kiora Fri 17-Jan-14 10:04:42

Your right Jess she has always been stubborn and can be fairly intimidating. I have seen her turn very nasty indeed. Not particularly to me because I bite back! She manages her money herself not that she has much. But it's such a waste of money. I simply cannot understand why she's wasting it. Your right I do think it's an addiction and yes if we try to talk to her about it she gets very defensive. The good side of this is that it's stopped her interfering and criticising us. Because we retaliate " you can talk what about your eggs, sweets,cakes etc etc" I suppose we will have to leave her to it. But why does she not open the parcels. Isn't that half the pleasure.

Kiora Fri 17-Jan-14 10:08:05

Ps. The quality of this stuff is awful. She's paying around £20+ maybe more for biscuits that can be bought in A £ shop obviously for £1

Sook Fri 17-Jan-14 10:19:18

A similar thing happened to my mil, she was receiving letters almost daily claiming that she had won huge sums of money. All she needed to do was to send a cheque which varied between 10 -25 -pounds to cover administration costs of course the money never arrived. She refused to believe it was a scam and we estimated that sent off cheques worth £1,000 in total.

To put a stop to it we eventually asked the Royal Mail to re direct her mail to our address for twelve months. We needed her consent which she grudgingly gave and I think we had to pay approx. £25 for the service. They did eventually stop........phew.

It's a difficult situation Kiora I'm not my mils biggest fan but to me it seemed a cry for help . She is very self indulgent and was spoiled rotten by my fil (who did it for a quiet life). Her sons were united with the opinion that it was greed that encouraged her. She is quite an affluent lady but her unique personality makes it difficult for her to sustain relationships family or otherwise. I do know that my husband and his brothers have done things behind her back when they have considered it to be in her best possible interest.

Good Luck.

Gracesgran Fri 17-Jan-14 10:24:53

This is a scam Kiora and we had the same thing with my mother. I am sorry to hear you are having to try and deal with it as it is very difficult.

Your MIL is now on a list and they do pass these to other companies so getting rid of them is difficult but we did manage it in the end but not before my mother's bank had taken her card off her and stopped her using checks. She kept telling them (so they said when we saw them with her) that she had no relations she could talk to and, when a lovely neighbour caught her in tears (because of the bank) she would not talk to me but only my brother who is too far away to do anything. He did get in touch with me but she still did not really want me to sort things out.

Even then it took us ages to convince her that this was a con. We sorted her money out fairly quickly and I wrote very strong letters to the companies but she still hears from them and their clones occasionally. There is very little you can do about this because they work from outside the UK.

We did use this to talk to Mum about power of attorney but I have a feeling your MIL would not accept that. It is something we should all do when we are very mentally fit because I have a feeling this stage is one many go through.

We decided there were many components to the whole thing. First, Dad had managed all the banking, etc. Mum was brilliant with the housekeeping but that was basically cash. She was quite confused about the bank account, loan account (the bank had set this up for her) and the card account. Her basic maths is very good (she was born in 1920 so schooling was not as it is now) but she has no real comprehension of cash flow.

Second, she was very lonely after the death of my Dad - much more than we had realised. We had to put more visits in place and did try and sort out groups she could join but, like many, she didn't want to do that.

Third, sadly we now realise she was in the early stages of Alzheimer's and had a strong need to feel in control.

I am not sure this will help but, hopefully you will get something sorted out. It is far from easy and I do think there should be more campaigning about these companies.

Elegran Fri 17-Jan-14 10:25:20

You might be able to complain about the quality, then, Kiora, or persuade her to complain about it. If she has always been keen to get her money's worth she could perhaps accept that, at least.

It is very difficult when she is in control of all else in her life, and she is right about it being her money to do what she likes with, but it is not good to see her being conned.

Bez Fri 17-Jan-14 10:35:23

The mother of one of my friends was buying stuff from various companies - mainly clothes etc -and the flat she lived in was full of parcels and boxes. When she died my friend found drawers full of new cashmere jumpers still wrapped up!! Fortunately they are in beautiful colours and the right size for my friend! grin

Nonu Fri 17-Jan-14 11:04:14

bez , wasn*t your friend the lucky one ?

FlicketyB Fri 17-Jan-14 12:06:41

Kiora, nelliemoser has already given you the links to Age UK and You and Yours, but you might need to consider, as your MiL has changed so much, whether she is still competent to manage her own affairs and whether her financial affairs should now be managed on her behalf by someone with a Power of Attorney. Has she given any member of the family a PoA? Would she be willing to do so?

Dementia can take many forms and memory loss and the stereotypical picture of the dementia sufferer that is recognisable to all, can be very misleading. In my work with the elderly I came across a number of cases, of what I called 'rational demented', people who seemed to go through a complete personality change, like your MiL, and then became obsessed with something, buying things - as your mother does, or a vendetta against a neighbour, or one woman's conviction that all her medical records were inaccurate because her year of birth had two numbers transposed on one xray.

Perhaps a word with her doctor might help.

rosesarered Fri 17-Jan-14 12:35:05

This problem was highlighted on tv a few months ago. It is obviously addictive and maybe gives people a buzz. If the person doing it is not senile or vulnerable then you can tell them what YOU think of it but not much else. I think it's because the older person doesn't go out much or see other people regularly, it's a form of comfort. Sad isn't it?

Bez Fri 17-Jan-14 12:35:08

Yes Nonu she was very lucky - tells me she still has some in their wrappings!!! Of course many other things were rubbish and much was bought from TV shopping channels and still in the boxes they arrived in - think they did a car boot with most of it.

Kiora Fri 17-Jan-14 15:07:39

No one wants any of my MiL expensive purchases it's all overpriced rubbish. Her family tell her this over and over she gets very sniffy about it. When she comes to stay with us her health and breathing improve dramatically. We assume it's because there is much less dust. One of her bedrooms has dolls in every available space very spooky. No of us especially children will stays. They say it gives them the heeby jeebies. All those unblinking eyes staring down at them.

posie Fri 17-Jan-14 15:43:15

I've had this problem with my husband for couple of years. Even before his Alzheimer's diagnosis.
Went to trading standards with him. They basically told him that all the letters he was receiving were scams of some sort & if something seems to be too good to be true, it's because it is & to ignore it. Good advice for most people but had no effect at all on my husband.

Myself & family & Dr. have talked to him about POA but he refuses to consider it. Without it, it seems there's little I can do.

Also I've spoken to the post office but they say they can't stop this mail as it's addressed to him.

He's obsessed with the post, always has too get to it first. I occasionally manage to dispose of some of it without him knowing but he's always suspicious if there's not as much mail as he thinks there should be & can get extremely angry about it.

I've shown him various things on the internet showing that exactly the same things that are posted to him have been sent to others & been proved to be scams but it does no good.

I think more should be done by government &/or Royal Mail to stop these scams from being delivered to vulnerable people!

JessM Fri 17-Jan-14 16:08:51

Oh posie that does sound grim. flowers I wonder if anyone has taken this up with their MP. It would have to be people in your position posie - are you in a position to get to his/her MP's surgery?
Is it still possible to get a post office whatdoyoucallit box - they are common in some countries - all the mail goes to the box at the post office and you pick it up. Can't see it on the RM website.
I will ask my cousin how her husband redirected his dad's mail etc

Any ideas anyone?
GN campaign maybe?

Ana Fri 17-Jan-14 16:18:11

£244 a year for a Royal Mail Box number - not cheap!