Friday, February 12, 2010

No Conscious

The Wolves Amoung Us

My wife and I recently had my mother-in-law (my wife's mother) move in with us. It hasen't been easy. This type of transition means that a lot of changes have to be made. Our personal freedoms have been taken away and our lives have to be re-arranged. We have to be on call to attend to her needs (she is very frail) and having an 80+ year old child living in your home is...frustrating, to say the least.

We had to do this because my mother-in-law (M-I-L) is indigent. She has no money and can no longer afford to live on her own. She never planned for retirement, has no real property and frankly, she never planned on living this long. It just wasn't on her radar. Add to the mix, that she was a pampered princess most of her life, which has given her the mindset that she is entitled to things that most others have to work for.

However, there is a silver lining to almost any cloud that passes overhead. Periods of despair and hard times can teach us things that we would have never learned otherwise. Such is the case with my M-I-L. Unfortunately, what we have learned has not been a pleasant experience so far, but has served as a lesson of what to expect in the latter years of life.

There are a lot of 'hidden' economies in the world. Arms smuggling, drug trafficking, Internet pornography, all make billions and billions of dollars every year, but they aren't reported on the local news and these 'entrepreneurs' seldom pay taxes or release profit / loss statements. It is one of these hidden economies that we have ran into after my M-I-L moved in.

About 20 years ago, when I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, I rented my first studio apartment and went about setting up my life as a young bachelor. I continued to receive mail for the previous tenant, whom I assumed had passed away. Every week, a letter arrived from a televangelist (Television Christian Ministry) addressed to the previous tenant with a little 'trinket' inside. A small coin, a feather, or a vile with a sliver of wood in it. With each little trinket there was a letter indicating that the trinket had some religious significance or power to heal and the recipient only had to perform some small ritual with it (i.e., holding the coin to their forehead and reciting the enclosed prayer) and their prayers would be answered.

I found the whole scam somewhat humorous, since each letter requested a 'prayer gift' of $20 to the televangelist. The previous tenant was obviously being scammed by this tax exempt money collection agency masquerading as a church. After about 5 weeks, the letters stopped arriving. Their accounting department obviously realized that the well had dried up and they weren't going to waste anymore postage to send trinkets through the mail in hopes of getting an income stream.

I realized then, that the previous tenant must have been desperate for something. A cure for a disease, fear of death, anxiety over being lonely. Whoever they were, they were grasping at straws and were willing to send money for help. The sad fact was, no help ever came.

We like to think that people in the twilight of their years have things figured out. They have learned from their mistakes, they have accumulated wisdom and they want for little because they have learned that the true value in life isn't what they can hold in their hand, but what they can hold in their hearts and in their minds. We assume they have found inner peace. We like to think that, but it isn't always true.

People in their geriatric years often times worry a lot. They have fears and little ability to cope with them due to lack of ability or lack of resources. So they start grasping at straws. The last thing an elder parent or neighbor wants to do is ask for help, appear afraid, or cry. It is the ultimate sign of disgrace to them and extremely embarrassing. They want to hold onto their self esteem, because it is often times all they have left.

Which is why it was a shock, several days after my M-I-L moved in, when my wife was looking through the joint bank account that they share. There was a lot of money missing. She didn't have much money to begin with, but suddenly, she had significantly less. My wife started doing some checking and then confronted her mother regarding the large number of checks, in small amounts of $20 to $30, that had been issued over the past 8 months.

The M-I-L admitted that they were processing fees for large cash payments that she had been told she was owed. Large cash payment notifications that she had received in the mail at her old nursing home. We dug through her old paperwork and found over 50 letters that she had received in the last 6 months, all promising cash awards in amounts of 1 to 3 million dollars. All she needed to do was send in processing fees to receive the money. She had sent in over $1,000 in processing fees.

She was scared. She was running out of money and didn't want to be a burden to others. So she grabbed at straws. Never mind that buying lottery tickets or going to an Indian Casino would have given her a better probability of return. These offers came right to her, in the mail. They looked official and promised to solve all her problems.

Some scamers use religion, others the possibility of wealth beyond your wildest dreams. Either way, they are thieves that pray on the elderly and the infirm. Robbing them of what little dignity they have left.

The end result of all this is the cold hard fact that my wife and I must face. Despite her calm demeanor and pleasant personality, my M-I-L is a very nervous and anxious individual that has a lot of fear and desperation bottled up inside of her. We can't really trust her anymore, because we don't know what the fear and anxiety might make her do. If she could fall for mail scams promising millions of dollars, what about identity theft or bank account fraud over the Internet? She does have her own computer and access to e-mail.

My wife and I have to think in new parameters and look at new forces that could adversely affect our home and security because the M-I-L has moved in. And it has also taught us, that anyone will go to extraordinary lengths if they are desperate enough.

(if you click on the blog graphic, you can see one of the scam letters she received (redacted). I appologize for my absence from the blogophere of late, but as you can tell...I have been a bit distracted by other things recently.)