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The Sting
About the Author: Award-winning author Paul Lees-Haley has previously published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, The Alabama Writers Conclave’s Alalitcom, Voices, G/C/T, Hypertrophic Literary, CoEvolution Quarterly, Trial, Spectrum, and numerous psychological and legal journals and magazines.

It’s not like I’m a criminal. Originally I intended to write a newspaper article. But while turning over ideas for a story, I researched expressions like “clever crimes” and “smooth cons” on the Internet and stumbled onto methods too promising to ignore.

Then I discovered the statistics on the billions of dollars stolen from the elderly – cons accomplished with nothing more than a few emails and phone calls. I guess all that money and how easy it seemed added up to more temptation than even an honest man could resist.

No, I wouldn’t rob a destitute geezer. I’m not a bad person.

So I decided to target wealthy senior citizens who could afford me. And not simply old ones – no, I focused on those who couldn’t think straight. If you have grandparents or aging parents you love, you should investigate what they’re doing online. It’s astonishing how easy it is to log on to help blogs for patients with incipient Alzheimer’s or dementia or cognitive decline, and figure out the identities of the participants. And it’s fiendishly simple to determine the best prospects.

Who needs hacker expertise for identity theft? The cognitively impaired are exactly the folks who give away the wrong information. Heck, they hand out clues and details of their personal lives like party favors. Some of them use their full names, and mention their ages or home towns or where they went to school. Some name their husbands or wives or partners, and children and other family members who are visible on Facebook or LinkedIn or community and church websites.

The family pictures are tailor-made devices for criminals for sorting out the wealthy from the rest. Proud innocents post pictures of their homes, living rooms, and family members dressed in expensive clothing, or not.

A bunch of the elderly discuss their health problems on chat lists, and some mention the names of their doctors. Those lapses are most helpful.

With so many clues, locating telephone numbers is simple. And I prefer the personal touch of voices instead of the detachment of email. But mine became a voice with a twist. The personal details I learned on the symptom blogs, along with what the doctors’ offices gave away, gave me overwhelming credibility.

I’d call Dr. X’s office and ask for the bookkeeper or office manager (“Sorry, I can’t remember your bookkeeper’s name. And could you spell that for me?”) Virtually every time, a helpful receptionist connected me to said individual, so I recorded a speech sample before making an excuse to say I’d call back later and hung up.

Who would have guessed that one can purchase software that will imitate someone’s voice? But even that was unnecessary expense. Generic voice alteration technology available for free online was good enough to let me sound like a compassionate middle-aged woman.

A call claiming I was the bookkeeper who inadvertently deleted a couple of trivial points of information, along with mentioning the patient’s diagnosis or some symptoms they’d posted on a blog, soon convinced the victim that I was legit. That led us into a discussion about their records and the importance of keeping them accurate and up-to-date, and that let me pry open their weak mental capacities to elicit their credit card data. Voila. I was in business. Another beauty of targeting wealthy patients was that I could spend a lot more per credit card before it maxed it out.

And here’s a twist I enjoyed: to get even with scumbags who’d ripped me off in the past, I ordered a bunch of expensive junk online for home delivery – to their homes. I laughed out loud imagining them explaining to the law how it came about that five stolen credit cards were used to order their favorite wines or electronics or whatever other personal favorites I could recall from my dealings with those idiots.

Then I chanced upon my big score: a billionaire software developer suffering with vascular dementia, which for my purposes simply meant he couldn’t think right and was going to get worse. The card so high and wild I’d never have to deal another, to borrow from Leonard Cohen.

I met him on the vascular dementia support group list, and after making several helpful suggestions to him that I’d “learned providing care to my old friend injured in Afghanistan,” he agreed to go back channel so we could email and text in private.

This story appears in our APR 2016 Issue
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Reader Discussion

Admirably written. Love twists!
By Nancy Covert

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