Is my mom being scammed, and if so what can I do about it?
June 27, 2018 9:52 AM   Subscribe

My mom is in her mid 60s, and lost her husband about seven years ago. She has lately taken up with a man she just referred to as her boyfriend. I worry about the potential scumminess of this individual, but am not sure what I can do.

Mom claims she met this guy via a friend. I'm not sure if they've ever met in person, though they seem to talk fairly constantly. I'm concerned because of some of the things she says. He claims to be somehow involved in the oil and gas industry, very rich, with multiple properties/bank accounts in England and Germany, and who knows where else.

I have not met this person. He claims to be working on a big project off Australia. Mom has said recently that he might be coming to visit "in a week or two." What bothers me most is that she's suggested that she's house hunting for him to find a place here.

Unfortunately, mom has been very careful to avoid giving me many details about this guy. As far as I know, he hasn't asked her for money in the traditional "scam alert," sense, but I worry he might be taking advantage of her good nature. I also worry whatever this is won't be sustainable long-term, and leave mom more lonely and upset than she already is.

Help me navigate this, as someone who is generally conflict-averse, and has to live with her for the time being?
posted by Alensin to Human Relations (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, jeez, I assume that "off Australia" means on an offshore rig? Google oil rig scam to see how apparently common this is. Apart from how many rich, multiple-property-owning roustabouts do you know (you typically don't work 12-hour shifts for seven days in a row in flame-retardant coveralls if you also own many properties around western Europe), it's only a matter of time before this dude hits hard times and needs a little help, and I'm sure he'll pay her back soon through the sale of one of his properties, and then that will get held up... What kind of information is convincing to your mom? Is she a "news articles" or "TV interviews" or "hard data" kind of person? Obviously she won't want to believe it but think about what kinds of information could convince her.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 10:01 AM on June 27, 2018 [25 favorites]

Have her listen to the Dirty John podcast.
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:03 AM on June 27, 2018 [6 favorites]

95% a scam.

Unfortunately, people who are being scammed tend to double and triple down on the scam if others point it out to them. I would try really hard to seem to remain neutral and interested, so that she feels that she can come to you and not be ashamed if she starts to have suspicions. But don't do anything that would facilitate her being ripped off. Especially don't put any of your own money in to whatever scheme is coming.

Basically, once an adult lets a scam hijack their common sense, there is no stopping them short of guardianship. If your mother's falling for this now, a big obvious scam on roughly the blatantness level of a Nigerian prince, you should expect her to fall for every con that comes her way til death. But there's very little you can do about it, short of refusing to cooperate with any requests she makes to forward the schemes.
posted by praemunire at 10:05 AM on June 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

The AARP has started a podcast called The Perfect Scam, and there is an episode called Tracy's Romance Scam that your mother might want to listen to (and you might want to, also). They speak to a woman (Tracy) who was in a very similar position as your mother, and whose situation did not turn out well. The hosts also talk about what to be aware of when looking at romance scams. They are very sympathetic to women who are taken in by these scams.

If podcasts/radio interviews seem like something that your mom would be receptive to, there are a couple other very well produced podcasts with good interviews with romance scam victims. Unfortunately, the scam is very common.

Something else that comes up is that the victim of these sorts of scams may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed saying that they're sending money already. So you don't know how deep your mother actually is. It's worth being frank with her, and trying to get her to be frank with you.

I would also at some point very soon bluntly tell her that you think this is a scam. My own mother has run into some trouble with online scammers before (she's in her early 60s, so also not elderly -- just not especially hardened or suspicious anymore), and I immediately just tell her that I think this is a scam, and why, and how to get out of it/fix things. She has been receptive -- more receptive than I would have expected, actually. You will likely just be giving voice to worries that are in the back of your mother's mind anyway.
posted by rue72 at 10:08 AM on June 27, 2018 [6 favorites]

Thanks for probably confirming my suspicions. I'm really sad because mom genuinely cares for this guy, and I'm not in a great position to point out to her how weird this all sounds. Mom's easily taken in by technical jargon and appeals to authority, unfortunately, and has described this guy as "like a priest," by which I'm not quite sure what she means, but he seems to be good at pretending to teach her things.

Yes, he's supposedly on an off-shore rig as some kind of pipeline engineer. Furthermore, he mentioned some kind of recent leak/explosion off Perth, but I couldn't find any obvious news accounts about it.
posted by Alensin at 10:10 AM on June 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I would be very cautious to pass judgement. I would keep her talking about it, encourage her not to be ashamed (not by telling her not to be ashamed, but by being open minded and supportive), and ask her as many questions you can that are designed to get her to say things out loud so she can hear them out loud. Your mother has to come to the realization that she needs to cut this person off herself. You can help her by getting her to talk about him in realistic, real terms - this will help her stay tethered to reality.

I'm sorry - this is probably really scary and uncomfortable for you! It is good that you are sniffing this out.
posted by pazazygeek at 10:53 AM on June 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Try asking for a picture. A reverse image search will most likely turn up a match. These guys often get pics from stock photo and actors' headshot databases. Even women in love find it difficult to explain away stolen pics.
posted by irisclara at 11:24 AM on June 27, 2018 [6 favorites]

Here's how it went down with my MIL – Oil rig guy, wealthy, attractive, white, mid-50s maybe. Divorced or widowed. Daughter lives in the states and is in college (photo sent of attractive young person). Lots of talking at all hours. First thing he needed was an iPad that he couldn't get for reasons? and so she bought one and sent it to an intermediary. Then there was an accident. An explosion! Then he was in another country (Mexico? I think?) where he was in a coma and his accountant/lawyer started contacting my MIL on his behalf. He did need some money at this time. Money was sent. Right after he came out of the coma, he was supposed to travel to visit her. Never happened and somehow that petered out and the scammers managed to transfer her to a new guy. She sent him money, wired to NIGERIA, godammit. She gets annoyed when her money is not returned and spends many, many hours screaming on her phone at these people but somehow...also keeps sending money? Now she's been passed to a third or fourth guy and they talk all the time and she sends money and she's trying to get him to the states and they read the bible together and.... it's never-ending. She won't stop and there's nothing any authority can or will do. She has sent between $20-40k out of the country and has been "borrowing" money from relatives and won't listen to anyone.

The first guy was a "friend of a friend" on Facebook which is how he first got to her. Have no idea if the initial friend got scammed as well. It's miserable.

One of the tactics we tried early on was to mention how a friend of ours had gotten taken in by a "romance scam" and explained how it all worked and how exact the story was. That might work on your mom and get her to save face. You can talk about how they will ramp up the ask from small material things (usually electronics which they can use or sell) and they will promise repayment and to never send anything to anyone in Nigeria. You can also tell her that they will bring other people in on their conversations (lawyer, accountant, co-worker) and also that they will try to get blackmail material ("send nudez" kind of stuff).

Never give her more than a trivial amount of money and keep an eye and ear out for her borrowing money from friends and family. She might think that she can repay these friends when her boyfriend pays her back but that time will never come and it turns her into the scammer.
posted by amanda at 11:24 AM on June 27, 2018 [20 favorites]

I'm not in a great position to point out to her how weird this all sounds.

If she has someone around her that she trusts, her church leader? Local sheriff? A friend who is perceived as wise and empathetic, maybe you can tip them off and ask them to have a conversation with her. It's not just her - everyone needs to know about these scams. They are incredibly common and they work really well and she should not be ashamed but she should know that it is a scam and she should protect herself and her identity.
posted by amanda at 11:28 AM on June 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

See if you can get the name he's using - even his first name - from your mom. A photo would be even better, then spend some time on Facebook to try to track him down. If she can tell you the name of the company he's supposedly working for, that's more information for your research.

This scam is incredibly common and the swindlers usually find their victims on FB. If you can do a reverse image search, you'll most likely find the real person whose photo the scammer is using, and you just might find some of his previous victims.

You might call your local police department and ask if they have anyone on staff who specializes in romance scams. They might assist you in finding details to prove it's a scammer, and have advice on how to talk to your mom about it. Scamwatch has some good advice about romance scams, too.
posted by Lunaloon at 11:59 AM on June 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thanks for more advice, all. I am totally blind, so a photo is not exactly a common ask for me, but if needs must I can try that :-) mom does not have a Facebook account herself, though she might have started something with Messenger recently. I can at least get his first and last name, and try poking around in that way.
posted by Alensin at 12:05 PM on June 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Is she part of a church? If so, could someone there be an authority that she listens to on this?
posted by zennie at 12:15 PM on June 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

You could maybe ask for identifying information under the guise of "Oh! I have a friend in the oil industry in that area, let's connect them - what's his info?" You could also call the AARP fraud hotline - 877-908-3360. We called that and they did give us some good ideas. You could take your identifying information and see about running a background check.

I'm so sorry. There's just very, very little chance that this guy is not a scammer. Red flag #1 is that he has all this time to communicate with her. Guys working the rigs don't have consistent and unlimited chat/email time and if they did, a retiree in a far-flung area just wouldn't be their interest. That's a plain fact. When our MIL was telling us about the whole coma/Mexico thing, we told her it was so strange that there was no one else in this guy's life who was a more appropriate contact for his accountant/lawyer than some elderly woman in the middle-of-nowhere whom neither of them had ever met before. I mean, surely, if all his friends and family had abandoned him, that spoke to his character? I think that did give her pause, actually. Sadly, she "decided" that the first two were scammers but not her current guy. He's "for real" and if we could help her out with some money, she will bring him to the U.S. and prove us all wrong.
posted by amanda at 12:16 PM on June 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

He's going by the name Alexi Vadim. I feel vaguely dirty given the methods I use to obtain that information, but in this case I feel justified. I'm struggling not to feel a sense of futility here, to be honest. This just came at a really weird time.

Unfortunately, mom's not really connected to many churches or other organizations that might be helpful. She has a few friends but I'm not super close to most of them myself. I may give the AARP hotline a call at some point in the next while.

Thanks for all the help and advice so far, everyone. I appreciate it very much.
posted by Alensin at 12:23 PM on June 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

The game is afoot! Doesn't look great for this big important oil engineering business person that the only things coming up when you google his name are this sketch af wordpress site full of vaguely intelligible junk about delivering "value-added civil/ Installation and infrastructural projects" for various unnamed companies in England and "elsewhere", and a warning on about a scammer that goes under that name. That last page has a pic and copy of a letter a potential victim received, maybe if those match the correspondence with your mom, it might be good enough evidence to convince her.
posted by Freyja at 2:15 PM on June 27, 2018 [11 favorites]

That pic is the same one used on Vadim's LinkedIn account for the "RudolphLand Consulting" civil engineer. Hope your mom recognizes the letter on the scam site.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:25 PM on June 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

Would it be possible to reach out to her bank to alert them to possible fraudulent activity? (This may be jurisdiction dependent - my bank asks when I withdraw large sums of money to confirm I am not falling for a common kijiji or rental scam). I would not expect the bank to share information due to privacy laws. Heck, I would even call the local police to see if they have a fraud department and an officer willing to follow up personally (...sigh, long chance but there is always hope)
posted by saucysault at 2:36 PM on June 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm telling you, you can (and should) do all the research you want for your own information, but if she's already withholding information from you (how would you not know the name of a guy your mom is seeing when you live together otherwise?), going in there with all your research will most likely cause her simply to go into denial and to stop talking to you about it altogether. This is what scam victims do, this is especially what elderly scam victims do when they are afraid of losing their autonomy. No one wants to hear that the only person interested in them romantically is just running a con. If you can find a way for you both to listen to the AARP podcast together that doesn't seem like you're compelling her to sit down and listen to it in particular, that might help plant some seeds of doubt in her mind. But you have to make all doubt seem to come from her side, and so you have to keep the lines of communication open.
posted by praemunire at 2:55 PM on June 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have so much sympathy for you (and her). There are some great suggestions here for dealing with the scammer, but I have a more long-term thought. The reason scams like this work is because they are fulfilling a genuine psychological need -- which means it will be very hard to get your mother to accept that it is a scam unless she can identify some other way of meeting the need. That is often the case when people appear to be behaving irrationally: some part of them knows it is irrational, but they can't let themselves accept it because the need is so great. Hence they just dig in more and cannot be reasoned with.

In your mom's case, I suspect the need is that she is very lonely, and the longer term solution is for her to become less lonely. On some level this is her problem to solve, but you might be able to help in some ways. Could you encourage her to join things -- a church, a club, a hobbyist group? Perhaps join them with her if she's nervous about it? Set up special nights with just you and her? Find her Facebook groups or something geared around common interests where she might find a supportive community? I know you are probably very busy and have a life of your own, and I know nothing about your relationship with her: but if you can think of any things that might help with the loneliness, I suspect that will be the only thing that will really solve the problem. Otherwise, even if you prove to her that this guy is a scammer, she'll still be very vulnerable to the next one who comes along.
posted by forza at 4:12 PM on June 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

You say you live with your mom and I'm assuming that's because of your blindness, but maybe there are other reasons, so what I would focus on is protecting yourself and having a few backup plans. I'm concerned that you may be dependent on your mom for things and so her getting scammed could hurt you personally.

Do you share bank accounts? Does your mom have access to any of your identifying information? If so, lock that info down. Put controls on your credit. Make sure your files are locked away (especially if the guy actually does show up in person). You don't want to become collateral damage.

Can you move out? If affordability or supportive housing needs are an issue can you get on a list and start the process?

Also reach out to a social worker, see if your county or state has a senior services department. Someone there may be able to offer advice. They may be able to tell you how to report this scammer for elder abuse.
posted by brookeb at 4:21 PM on June 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

My MIL got snagged on of these hooks. Wealthy fellow with many properties, business owner, semi-retired, lovely age-appropriate profile photo. After weeks of online convos he said he was coming to visit her, just as soon as he got back from a necessary business trip to $OTHER_NATION.

...It was from there he contacted her to explain how he had been mugged, and no longer had his wallet or his plane ticket, and urgently needed my MIL to wire him some money in $OTHER_NATION as soon as posssible to help him out of this sticky situation. Being very wealthy, he would pay her back almost immediately!

It was at this point that I interfered. She didn’t lose any money, but she was left feeling foolish, humiliated, and not legitimately wanted as a companion.
posted by Construction Concern at 6:19 PM on June 27, 2018

Once you've collected evidence of the con and communicated it to your mom however you deem best, maybe directing any ire at the 'friend' who supposedly made the introduction will help her save face and move forward? Ideally, she'd decide to extricate herself after the reveal, not dig in further.

Like everyone else, I'm really sorry this is happening.
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:48 PM on June 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Well, I tried to bring it up with mom this morning, and as praemunire predicted, things did not go well. I didn't get a chance to deploy my evidence, such as it is, because mom immediately lashed out and suggested that I'm not giving her enough credit. She hasn't met this person, true, but scammers would surely be asking for money, and scammers wouldn't let the mark see their faces, and on and on.

She further suggested that she's going to cut me off from information about her doings if it's going to make me "worry too much." She supposedly hasn't sent this man any money yet.

I'm feeling discouraged and sad. She wants me to keep an open mind and give her credit, but it's really hard to do either right now. I'm going to try and regroup as best I can.
posted by Alensin at 9:55 AM on June 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Regarding the long-term question, I'm definitely going to be watching my accounts like a hawk. Fortunately, mom only has her name on one shared credit card. My ideal is to move out by the time I'm 31, but job hunting makes that less than a certainty. I just feel awful about this whole situation in general.
posted by Alensin at 9:57 AM on June 28, 2018

I just want to come back and say that you are so good for worrying about her well-being. It took a little while before the oil guy asked my MIL for money. They are so good at putting out the line. I think falling back on, "Hey, you can't be too safe with people from the internet! You just never really know who they are...." might work for your relationship. Good luck dis-entangling from her and hopefully she won't get taken in. For every mark they land, there must be many that walk away.
posted by amanda at 10:08 PM on June 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

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