An innocent word game served as a platform for a scammer to gain trust of a victim

By James Ward

James Ward

Have you won? Did you get your millions? Did you pay the interest first?

A client was referred to me by another estate planning attorney who is unfamiliar with Medi-Cal eligibility. The elder gentleman wanted our first meeting to be over lunch near his house, so he made the reservations for lunch outside (Covid-19 restrictions) and we met and discussed his estate over sandwiches.

In addition to his home, the gentleman has more than $1 million in stocks and cash. He’s already in his very late 80s, so he’s most likely financially set for life. He mentioned the Publishers Clearing House, and I chuckled because I thought he was making a joke about winning big and having more money.

But he wasn’t kidding! When we spoke on the phone four days later, he told me he had already won, he was in contact with their representatives, and he only needed to pay them in advance for the interest charges. As soon as he paid, they would wire the millions of winnings directly to his account. Just like magic!

I stopped him and told him it’s a scam. He told me he had already told the “representative” he thought it was a scam, and the representative laughed and told him lots of winners have the same initial reaction, but he was really a winner and this was the “real deal.”

I pleaded with him to stop all further communications with the representative, and I even researched the scam online to give him the details. He was embarrassed and wanted to call back the nice representative and tell him to not bother sending him the written information he had requested. I asked whether he had already given them his address, and he said no, the Publishers Clearing House already had all of his personal information, so he didn’t need to provide it. Of course they had it. They’re professional scammers who make their living this way. They’re smart. They’re good at what they do. They do their research on their targets.

Here was a former computer engineer who had worked at some of the biggest IT companies of the ’70s and ’80s, and he was falling for this scam and about to lose a considerable amount of money.

What about Words With Friends? It’s a nifty little game with attributes similar to Scrabble and crossword puzzles, and it can be played on phones or computers with several players. I was naïve enough to think it was just a simple game of words until a family came to me with the news that their mother had just fallen in love with the third different man she had met on Words With Friends. With each man, their mother was convinced the man really loved her, and that she needed to send him money to help him fly in to see her and be with her forever. In their efforts to convince her it was a scam, they alienated her because they “were trying to interfere in her personal life after she had finally met such a wonderful man.” In all likelihood, all three men were the same guy, or the first one just passed her name and information off to the next ones and these guys all worked their “targets” together.

What appeared to be an innocent word game served as a platform for the scammer(s) to reach this woman and try to get her money.

These cases are difficult. Don’t let them happen to you or your family. Get a proper estate plan in place now so that people you trust can help you when needed, and keep in touch with your trusted people so that someone can step in to help at the right time.

The scammers do not need your money for larger houses and more luxury cars. They already have enough of that from scamming other seniors.

James Ward
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