Is this yet another scam?
November 14, 2016 12:20 PM   Subscribe

My retired physician father died 7 months ago. I've been helping my Mom organize her bills and go through the papers he has left behind. Shortly around his death, a letter from the International Association of Emergency Physicians arrived inviting him to be part of a published listing citing his distinguished career. It doesn't ask for any amount of money in order for his name to be published but it's definitely part of some kind of marketing scheme.

My 87 year old mother wants his name in this book. And she's willing to pay whatever amount it takes for him to be part of this listing. She feels it's important that he be recognized as part of the first wave of foreign physicians who came to America in the late 1960s to specialize in Emergency Medicine.Two months ago, she almost fell for the IRS phone scam pretending a lawsuit had been filed against her. Luckily, I was able to show her local news coverage warning others against this practice and she was able to calm down.

What's the best way to determine whether these calls and letters are scams preying on vulnerable people? What's the best way to protect my very gullible mother against writing out a massive check without me hovering over every piece of mail or voicemail?
posted by IndigoOnTheGo to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think you're asking two questions here.

Regarding the professional listing offer, that's pretty common. I wouldn't call it a scam, per se, unless they are asking for a lot of money (like over $100). See also Who's Who books: "Many publications using the title are vanity publications, where the inclusion criterion is the biographee's willingness to buy the book, with the business model consisting of selling books directly to the biographees." I say let her do it, and let her buy the book.

Regarding her susceptibility to scams in general, I will defer to others here ...
posted by intermod at 12:23 PM on November 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

"Mom, this isn't a real organization. I googled them, and there's nothing. This is a scam. They're going to print some cheap piece of crap and ask you to buy one for a ridiculous price, and no one will ever read it."

And then maybe point her to a more useful remembrance of your father, say, a scholarship or a bench at a hospital where he worked.
posted by Etrigan at 12:24 PM on November 14, 2016 [27 favorites]

do you have the name correct? there isn't a single google result for "International Association of Emergency Physicians"
posted by andrewcooke at 12:24 PM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

there isn't a single google result for "International Association of Emergency Physicians"

There will be in about an hour when Google indexes this thread :) Trust me, it'll happen, and is pretty funny.

The OP probably meant the International Association of Emergency Medicine Physicians .

You'll find more information if you search for the book title.

Again, though, in my opinion it's relatively harmless and will make her feel better.
posted by intermod at 12:27 PM on November 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

I can't speak to this organization in particular, but with similar issues with my grandma, we basically had to have my aunt keep her checkbook and they'd sit down together once a week to write out any checks. Ultimately she was in a mental place where it wasn't enough to say "Hey, here are general markers of scams to look out for" because each new thing would tug on her heartstrings in a different way.
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:31 PM on November 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

The OP probably meant the International Association of Emergency Medicine Physicians.

While this is probably true, their website throws a DHTML error for every page. A bit suspicious. Besides, I see little utility in listing him, as if it is legit, the Directory is meant to connect professionals to exchange info.

I don't mean to scare you, OP, but this lack of discernment around cold calls asking for money, and poor decisions around money, can be signs of cognitive impairment. I'd suggest that a) you ask if you can be added to her financial accounts, so you can monitor them (don't take any money out or put any in, just get statements and read them, and b) have her see her doctor for a check-up including a blood test to be sure she's not low in B and D, which can affect cognition in a surprising way.

Good luck.
posted by Riverine at 12:34 PM on November 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

Focus on re-routing her desire to see her husband's life and work recognized. If you do this, it will be a literal listing. Maybe a paragraph. And nobody will read it. Instead write up a page or two about your father's life and work, explaining the significance of his being one of the first to migrate to the U.S. etc. Find a better venue to publish it. Professional association (legitimate ones) newsletters often publish obituaries. Or the newsletter for the hospital where he worked, or a local community newspaper. Point out that not only will this be a better account of his life, but it will be an account people will actual read. If the point is to honour your father, then why hide the story of his life where it will never be seen.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:53 PM on November 14, 2016 [16 favorites]

Find a better venue to publish it.

Local historical society or library - other places that make good points to memorialize someone. That money could also buy a plaque somewhere he loves, with a quote in memoriam.
posted by Miko at 12:59 PM on November 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Any chance pointing out to her that the "benefits" include the chance of being listed in prestigious search engines/directories like Lycos, AltaVista, Ask Jeeves, WebCrawler, etc, and asking her of what use that might be?

It's run out of a virtual office that also does a Stanford Who's Who and International Association of Dentists (which offers the exact same benefits)... There are a number of other similar scams for other practice areas run out of the same office, offering inclusion in the same book.

> She feels it's important that he be recognized as part of the first wave of foreign physicians who came to America in the late 1960s to specialize in Emergency Medicine

The "profiles" on that site look like this. It won't do anything but put his name on the web in a place that is not respectable; they're not going to tell people about his achievements. Unless she pays them $1k+ and $35/mo; then they will, in a book that absolutely nobody looks at.

Here is a cardiologist weighing in on the "book" they publish -- note the prices he quotes, and, wisely, "Personally, I would be embarrassed to have such a listing and as a patient I would shy away from doctors who are paying for it." More snark. Do read the comments, especially from the gullible who ended up paying, or at least looking into paying.

(I noticed a little while ago that a friend of a friend had fallen hard for this sort of scam, and my opinion of her went straight to hell. I didn't know her terribly well, but I had thought of her as reasonably intelligent. Now I think of her as a grasping climber sort who is basically a fraud in her profession, which requires people to not be gullible in order to be successful. I wanted to say something, but knew it wasn't my place, and that she was unlikely to believe me anyway.)

It's not at all clear that deceased physicians are even eligible, though I'm sure the scam outfit would be happy to take your mother's money anyway. But I wonder if you couldn't call them, tell them your dad died months ago, and go into enough hysterics about suing them if they swindle your mother, etc, to scare them off into a "Sorry, living doctors only" if she tries to go through with it? Conning con (wo)men is difficult, though...

(A scholarship or bench are both nice ideas; they are useful things that will actually be seen and paid attention to and so forth.)
posted by kmennie at 4:06 PM on November 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

You might also make sure that an obit is sent to his alumni organizations. That's a solid way to enter recorded history.
posted by Mo Nickels at 4:16 PM on November 14, 2016

I'm sorry you're doing through this. Unfortunately, there are people to deliberately target widows and widowers to take advantage of them.

It may not be a scam per se, but she'll be revealing herself as a mark. They'll sell her info to more malicious organizations. I'd strongly advise her to stay away.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:25 PM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

And don't forget the "grandchild" who calls from overseas needing money to buy himself out of trouble "and don't tell my parents" when said grandchild was actually at home in the US...

There is more of this coming!

Seconding the advice to see if you can still get on the account "just in case" so you can pay her bills if she ends up in the hospital. Once you are on the account, you can set up alerts via electronic banking which lets you know as soon as a big transaction hits without having to be actively monitoring it all the time. However, by that time the money will already be gone.

The best is if you can find a way that you or another trusted person can help her pay her bills. For my mother, in the beginning, just helping her review the statements and make sure she knew what going on felt supportive, she still wrote out the actual checks because that was important to her. After an illness led to some further cognitive decline, she was relieved to let us gradually take over more and more.
posted by metahawk at 6:38 PM on November 14, 2016

Also, help your mother think about how and where your father should be remembered. Send in obituaries to his college, medical school, professional society. Then find copies of the obits and print them out. Go online to funeral home, print out the obit from their website as well. If there are any other indexes around (that he didn't pay to be in), get copies of those too. Create a binder of these tangible reminders of his life. That might make her feel better that his life mattered and will be remembered.
posted by metahawk at 6:49 PM on November 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Given the links above on what this organization actualy does/sells, it seems like it's really an organization looking to help docs drum up business (well, looking to make docs think they're helping to drum up business). Given this, the path of least resistance is probably to tell your mom that this an advertising venue to help patients find doctors and that A) It would be unfair to list your father, since he's unavailable and B) That's not usually how emergency medicine works anyway, is it?

Then channel her desire to see your father's life and work recognized into a more appropriate venue.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:46 AM on November 15, 2016

> it seems like it's really an organization looking to help docs drum up business (well, looking to make docs think they're helping to drum up business)

Yeah, definitely #2, and definitely unsuccessfully -- nobody, but nobody, has ever picked up any sort of vanity-who's-who to find out about anything or anybody. The "directories" with the bios and junk are not actually available, or at least not readily available, to the general public -- or even to other physicians, ones who are not paying $1k+ and then $35/mo.

(I had a famous relative, like, name scribbled on chalkboard when we had to do a project on a famous such-and-such at school, and once found, to my astonishment, a "Who's Who" in the public library. It was with considerable relief that I found he was not in there, and I carted this massive tome off to the librarian to point out that it was a vanity press thing, not an actual reference book, and wanted culling from the collection...)

But yeah, maybe explaining it as "it's like a Yellow Pages, mom. They must not have known he'd passed when they sent that out" would soften the blow.
posted by kmennie at 7:50 PM on November 16, 2016

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