Scammers I’ve Bagged

When Susan Eng asked me to write about elder abuse, my first reaction was not ‘what will I write’ but ‘how will I get it all in?’

I could tell the story of the blonde bombshell who wormed her way into the life of the retired school principal in Saskatoon. He spent his life savings on her, then signed the mortgage on her new house. In an unrelated investigation, the bombshell was charged by police with plotting to kill another man. This was the woman the retired principal thought he loved.

I could tell the story of the elderly woman, a patient in a convalescent hospital in Toronto–and suffering from the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease–a woman who depleted her life savings by buying junk mail order products that were delivered to her hospital room and sat in a corner, apparently unnoticed or dismissed by hospital staff. The con artists, from a telephone boiler room in Montreal, at one point came to Toronto to collect more money from the woman.

They planned to take her to her bank, in her wheelchair, so she could withdraw cash to pay for the useless, overpriced trinkets. When her wheelchair wouldn’t fit into their van, they decided to wheel her to her bank several blocks away. That soon became too much like work for the pair, so they deserted her on the sidewalk. A good samaritan made sure she was returned to her room.

But the story that remains uppermost in my mind is the story of William and Cynthia. Both of them are gone now but fondly remembered by daughter Stephanie.

The couple lived in Montreal. They had $128,000 dollars safely invested with a large, well-known investment company. They met one of the company’s investment advisors to review their investments. The man was very solicitous. Friendly. He slid his way into the couple’s lives. The slippery salesman, Pierre, convinced William to withdraw all of his money from the large company and invest it privately with him. Over a period of a year, Pierre got all the money–$10,000 to $15,000 a time. After a while, he would demand the money. Pierre put himself between William and Cynthia. Cynthia had always been suspicious of Pierre so Pierre pushed her out of the way.

Stephanie only found out about all this after William had died, at age 77. Her mother told her all the sad details. Some of those details were outrageous. William had been an abstainer for his whole life and yet his death certificate listed cirrhosis of the liver as the cause of death.

Cynthia told the rest of the painful story. Pierre had encouraged William to drink. Excessively. It made the old man easier to handle. After William’s death, Stephanie and Cynthia found 11 bottles of gin and bourbon in the house–delivered by the every-friendly Pierre.

We got William and Cynthia’s money back from the shocked and horrified investment house where Pierre worked. He got fired. That was it. We chased him down the street and put his face on television for all to see. But I always worry he’s out there still—stealing money and victimizing older Canadians. And he is not alone.