Jenkins: Just don’t mess with Ganny

September 20, 2012 

True story: When my grandmother was still living by herself in a small foothills town, I was up visiting and was alone with her. I was somewhere in my pre-teen years, maybe a little older. Ganny, as I called her, was not a wealthy woman but lived on a large corner lot and had an impressive-looking brick house with a wraparound porch. She and my grandfather had raised five children there.

She was a very intelligent and insightful person, carefully on guard against charlatans and the like. Savvy.

On a weekday afternoon, this fellow with slicked-back hair and one of those super-wide ties rang the old doorbell. My Ganny insisted on answering, and when she cracked open the door he started his pitch about some scheme that had her giving him money for some kind of get-rich-quick investment. Ganny was polite as always. He kept on, in a northern accent not often heard in the foothills of North Carolina.

“C’mon now, let me in and I can tell you all about this.”

“Look, this is all about helping elderly people like yourself.”

“You’ll be rich beyond your wildest dreams.”

“Now, I insist you let me in! I have to explain this opportunity!”

At about this point, when I thought I saw him moving toward forcing the door open, I walked up behind Ganny and pulled the door shut and locked it. He didn’t go anywhere.

Unfortunately for him, my father came up on the porch about then. He told the guy to wait, and went inside the house to call the police chief.

In those days, a chief could take a fellow such as a scam artist to the town limits and then call the surrounding towns to alert them, which he did. The fellow was not seen in those parts again.

Unfortunately, not every elderly person has a grandson to close the door and a son-in-law to call the cops, and both in this region and nationally there apparently are an increasing number of scam artists out to fleece trusting elderly people of all they have.

If there is a sleazier, more despicable crime, excluding those in which physical harm is done, of course, it’s hard to imagine it. Alas, lashes in the town square no longer are permitted, else there would be a competition to hold the whip.

Among the scams in fashion now, as reported by The N&O’s Thomas Goldsmith, are false claims against Medicare, by someone who’s acquired a senior’s Medicare number. Then there are the scammers who just appear at someone’s house and want a few thousand dollars to do some kind of paving or repair job that’s worth a few hundred. And of course, there are the contacts from “sweepstakes” scammers who want money so that a person may “claim” a prize that doesn’t exist.

But there are far more sophisticated scams going on all over the country, some of them involving annuity investment, insurance policies, crooked financial planners luring people into bad investments, and even cases where family members, on the pretense of helping an uncle or a grandparent, are siphoning from accounts built with blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice.

A few pieces of advice are basic: Don’t open doors to strangers; don’t give anyone a Social Security or Medicare number; don’t sign anything; if a promise of financial gain seems to good to be true, it is; call your trusted kinfolk and neighbors if someone calls or arrives at your door seeking financial information you think really ought to be your business. As to the good kin and friends: Keep an eye out for those who may be preying on your older relatives.

The crimes of financial scamming against old people are so numerous now that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, established by President Obama to protect citizens from the wild ways of the big financial institutions that helped take the country to the brink of disaster, is investigating the scams and will organize ways to protect people.

You’ll recall that Republicans and the banks fought establishment of the bureau ... no wonder. Protect the elderly? The very idea!

Now back to Ganny. Following the episode, she told me, after my father left, “You didn’t need to worry, you know. I could have taken care of this myself.”

I didn’t really understand what she meant, right that minute. But some time later I was helping her put some things away and saw a pistol with a pillowcase wrapped around it in her wardrobe.

I never did seek an explanation about it. And after that, I was really polite whenever I asked for more pie.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at jjenkins@newsobserver.com

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