Sarah’s elderly mother connected with old friends and grandchildren when she discovered the internet and Facebook.
Then she stumbled into the world of internet romances and it was the beginning of a trap that cost the widow $200,000 and left her mentally broken and under the care of psychiatrists.
Sarah, whose real name has been changed to protect her mother’s identity, said the family quickly realised the elderly woman was victim of a scam. The man’s image was commonly used by scammers and despite him talking up his wealth in emails and texts, she had started transferring him money.
By the time it imploded, Sarah’s mother was going without medication to keep up with his demands for cash to help with feigned emergencies.
“Mentally, it has just destroyed her,” Sarah said.
“Sometimes she would be crying in bed all day. Everything locked up. Some of the scammers started to threaten her.”
Addicted to the promise of love
Sarah said when she and her mother’s friends could not convince her she was being conned, she turned to the family GP but was told it was more a “family or social problem”.
“It was an addiction. She was totally addicted,” Sarah said.
“I have worked with people with drug addiction myself and she was addicted.
“I said, ‘Mum is vulnerable, she is being financially abused and I am really concerned about her mental health and her physical health’.
“The doctor said [to Sarah’s mother], ‘Well, are you taking your tablets?’ ‘Yes, I am taking my tablets, I am fine.’ Then I find out she has not had tablets in months.”
She said her mother may have listened to the GP if she had backed up the family’s concerns about financial abuse.
Ultimately the GP did refer Sarah’s mother for a mental health assessment and the widow was hospitalised soon after.
Dr Ian Taylor from the Midwest GP Network said doctors could not overstep the mark and tell people they were being scammed.
But he did believe it was a community problem and one GPs needed to be more aware of.
“I don’t think doctors are fully aware of the severe psychological and psychiatric ramifications and the power these scammers have over people including threatening family and children,” Dr Taylor said.
“It is quite overwhelming and can cause very, very severe distress.
“When they discover they have been fooled it is a double whammy. Not only have they lost a lot of money, but they have lost someone they thought they loved and that in itself is a terrible grief response.”
Dr Taylor said the Midwest GP Network in Western Australia had organised for the local manager of Consumer Protection to speak to its members about the warning signs and how best to handle patients if they or their families suspected they were being scammed.
Consumer Protection senior regional officer Danni Bloomfield said $1.2 million dollars was lost to scammers in WA in January this year alone.
She said GPs could help.
“It is almost like an addiction,” Ms Bloomfield said.
“They need to speak to this person, they need to hear from this person, they need to keep this person happy.
“For them, if someone tries to intervene, they will lie about the extent of what is going on because it is easier not to acknowledge how deep you are in. So, in some ways, it is like an addiction.
“In this situation, [the woman] stopped purchasing food, she lost a lot of weight quite dramatically, there was ongoing medication that she needed to take that was under prescription and she stopped taking it.”
Sarah said her mother was now on the path to recovery.
“Hopefully when Mum is better she can see why we were so worried,” Sarah said.
“She has always been kind and generous.
“I would like her to be happy with her retirement.”
Topics: law-crime-and-justice, consumer-protection, health, geraldton-6530, perth-6000, wa
Lawn Mowing Service