There's a Grinch in every crowd, isn't there? While I like to think I'm no green, hairy, grouch, and while I love the Christmas season with all my heart, I still feel that I must sound a warning to benefit all of us.
Every year like clockwork, as the rest of us are thumbing through leftover turkey recipes and digging out our stretchy pants, there are some crafty and clever creatures gearing up for their most profitable season: Christmas.
Maybe it's because I'm in the "over 50" crowd, or maybe it's because I can spot a rip-off easier now than when I was younger, but I know as sure as the "best prices of the year" are upon us that so are the con men and scam artists. Sounds cynical, I know, but I came to this conclusion based entirely on my own experiences.
My father, God rest his soul, lived to the ripe old age of 93; we lost him almost 5 years ago. While he remained pretty sharp right to the end, he still needed the help of his children to just sort out the busy-ness of daily life. Managing his medications became complicated. He couldn't safely drive, so he depended on us for transportation. And I know that he thought that he was scam-savvy (he answered every phone call by growling, "What are you selling?" and hanging up, even if it was one of his children), but it was during those last years of his life that my eyes were opened to the number of opportunists, crooks and cons lurking around every corner.
They would try to reach my father by telephone, mail, and even by knocking on his door. With pitches that ranged from tree services, gutter cleaning, magazine subscriptions and life-alert bracelets, I'd say there were about 50 people standing in line for every dollar my dad had left to his name.
When my mother-in-law lost her husband several years back, I was appalled by the number of calls and letters she received, all claiming to be entitled to her money for this reason or that. On more than one occasion, she's called my husband in a near panic, having been tricked into giving this person or that her banking and other personal information. In turn, he'd spend hours on the phone undoing the damage that was swiftly and efficiently done to her finances.
For some reason, these con artists ramp up their efforts during the holiday season. Perhaps it' s because we're all so busy, and they know we might not be paying attention. Perhaps it's because they know we're likely making more purchases than usual, and a fraudulent charge can slip by an unsuspecting person rather easily. Whatever the reason, a slick scam like the ones I've seen can ruin the season, and probably a lot more, if it's not spotted and reported right away.
I implore you to be vigilant this season, while you're shopping and cooking and visiting with friends. And I'll ask one more thing: look out for an elderly person you know, too. Whether that person is a neighbor, family member or friend, chances are they need your help in protecting themselves. There are so many ways to steal from people these days, ways an elderly person has never heard of, much less can he understand. Check in on these people. Ask them if anything unusual happened that day, whether they got any phone calls that seemed strange. Depending on how well you know the person, come right out and ask whether they've made any purchases via phone, through the Internet or with a stranger at the front door. And if this person is a parent or grandparent, and if they trust you, sit with them and review their bank statements for a couple of months in a row, starting now. All of this may sound a bit over the top, but as I stated earlier, I know what I've seen happen to my dad and my husband's mom, and it's shameful.
There. That's the last of the Grinch-y things I'll utter from now through Christmas, From now on, it's cookies, presents, celebrations, family and decorating.
And then, there's the New Year. That's a whole different ball of wax, as Dad used to say.
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. Her fourth book, BLOOD IN THE SOIL, was named Finalist for 2017 Georgia Author of the Year in the Detective/Mystery genre. Her previous three books are written with loving humor about the South. Carole often appears on network television talk and news shows, as well as on national radio shows. Her books can be found in bookstores, on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and at www.caroletownsend.com. When she's not writing, Carole travels throughout the southeast, talking to groups about women, writing, family, and life in her beloved South. www.caroletownsend.com. Follow Carole on Facebook (Carole Townsend-Author), Twitter @caroletownsend, or Instagram @carole.w.riter.