A 90 year old woman receives a phone call form her “grandson” asking for her help – he needs $10,000 to get out of jail. After she sends the money, her last $10,000, she learns her grandson was never in jail and never called her.
A door-to-door salesman convinces an 82 year old man that his roof needs fixing. $20,000 later, he discovers his roof did not need fixing and in fact, the “repairs” damaged his roof.
A 68 year old senior applies for a part time job she read about in the paper, only to experience identity theft.
The details of each story above are different; however, all resulted in the loss of money and the betrayal of trust. During a Finding Home™ dialogue, entitled “How To Spot A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing”, seniors shared stories about their experiences of con artists, the shame and humiliation they felt afterwards and the road to recovery.
Ironically, the first step to trusting again is to learn to trust yourself. In almost all cases, the victim of a scam can remember having “a funny gut feeling” or a red flag that they ignored. At first it can be tempting to blame yourself. The trick is to leave the blame squarely with the con artist and realize if you listen to your “gut feeling” you can trust yourself and your choices.
The second step is to understand what made you vulnerable to the con artist. Two risk factors that make people vulnerable to con artists are loneliness and an unlived dream. Con artists tune into what your dream is for your life and make it seem like they can help you achieve the dream. They tend to be friendly and charming and can give the impression of genuinely caring about you.
This awareness can be a road map for what foundations you need to develop to keep yourself safe from con artists. Taking steps towards a life long dream and expanding your social network are two great first steps.
The third step is what I call “transforming pain into purpose.” Some experiences are too painful to just “move on” or “forgive and forget.” When I flip flop from the pain of victimization to fantasies of revenge I know it is necessary to explore transforming my pain into a purpose. For example, I was a victim of fraud in 2007 and out of that experience I created the “How To Spot A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing” dialogues.
During the dialogues, participants share stories and generate their own strategies to prevent and /or recover from fraud and other scams. For example, during one dialogue, participants identified the top ten red flags you may be dealing with a wolf. Red flags included, “they give lavish flattery;” “their story does not add up;” and “if it is too good to be true, it probably is.” Dialogue participants noted that lavish flattery, good deals or dishonesty does not always indicate you are dealing with a con artists. However, these red flag, exhibited consistently over time are good indicators to tread carefully.
Participants then share their journey to recovery such as the importance of remembering you did the best you could at the time. In fact, in retrospect, one senior explained, painful experiences can be a catalyst for growth. For example, if you have fallen prey to a con artist partially because you were in need of affection, this negative experience can be an opportunity to strengthen your appreciation for yourself and expand your network of friends who genuinely value your friendship.
After the dialogues, we create a poster that synthesizes the dialogue highlights (see page XX for to view one group’s How To Spot A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing dialogue poster). The poster becomes a visual legacy for the participants’ accomplishment and a public education tool for creating more seniors friendly communities.
In this way, participants become actively involved in transforming their negative experience into a meaningful contribution that helps others in their community. Some communities distribute the posters throughout their neighbourhoods as an effort to “con artist proof” their community.
Through the Finding Home dialogue and poster making process, seniors make new friends, learn about community resources, and generate their own ideas for projects and programs that matter to them.
Recently, the Finding Home™ Initiative has partnered with the Association of Neighbourhood Houses of British Columbia on a regional Elders Financial Abuse Awareness Dialogue Project funded by the Government of Canada (HRSDC New Horizons for Seniors Program).
We are working with Immigrant Services Society and Afghan seniors; South Vancouver Neighbourhood House and Punjabi seniors; and John Braithwaite Community Centre /North Shore Neighbourhood House and a multicultural seniors’ group.
Other partner agencies include: BC Centre for Elder Advocacy and Support, Mosaic and the BC Association of Community Response Networks. In-kind contributions from the United Way of the Lower Mainland , Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport, and BC211 have helped get this project off to a fabulous start!