Bereavement Scams

We have all heard about scams.  Even the smartest and sharpest among us can fall victim to a scam.  I have personally known several close friends who you would think knew better but ended up in a scam situation.  I honestly saw red flags when they shared information about their “new love interest.” It all sounded a bit off to me.  Ended up in both situations was exactly that, a scam!

The bereaved are especially vulnerable to scams.  There are people out there who know exactly how to speak to grieving people and can manipulate them with the goal of getting money out of them.

I wanted to write about bereavement scams because I regularly have conversations with family who tell me about a scam that they have discovered.  It is sad to say I have heard more about scams in the last three years than any other time during my 32+ years working with grieving families.  It seems that most times it is a widow or bereaved parent who shares with me that they have been scammed. 

Recently, I talked to a lady.  She lost her husband.  She joined a Facebook page for the loss of a spouse.  Not long after she joined the group, a certain male member started to private message her.  She described the conversations that she had with him.  She said that he said “all the right” things that made her feel better about herself and her grief.  He spoke a language that she connected to, and that was familiar to her because of her experience with grief.  She told me how she talked to her son and showed him her text messages.  It did not take her son long to literally google “scamming dialog” and find the exact same messages as samples.  She could not believe that she had been scammed.  Luckily for her, a couple of things, she was brave enough to tell her son, who she trusted as being very smart.  Number two, she did not get to the point of giving any money to the scammer!  The one thing that she said to me that was different than some other conversations that I have had she said that having the conversations with this person made her feel better about herself and her grief for the first time since her loss.  She said she could not explain it any better.  I offered this thought; maybe this experience helped her to know that it is possible for her to “feel better.”  Maybe she heard what she needed to hear for a bigger reason.  She gave it some thought and agreed.  It was what needed to happen to her so she could reinvest in life and pursue happiness.  She said that it did make her feel it was completely possible.  I call that living life after life.  It is very hard for people to imagine a happy life after a loss; once they realize that joy and grief can co-exist, something shifts.  

Another lady was not so lucky.  This story is about a bereaved mother.   She shared the story of how she was scammed by a woman who claimed also to be a bereaved mom.  As you would guess, she met this woman in an online support group for bereaved mothers.  This person befriended her.  They met regularly.  She claims she did not see any red flags until she did.  Suddenly, the woman needed a place to stay.  Things went downhill from there.  The woman moved in and stole various items from the home, including money!  During this time, my lady had provided a reference for this woman to live in the same apartment complex.  As this saga continued, the scammer ended up moving into another apartment nearby.  The apartment management company would not do anything about it!  Can you imagine having your scammer as now your neighbor?   My lady had learned a lot of information about this woman from her daughter, who had started to visit her mom.  She was not a bereaved mother!  This entire situation was so unbearable that my lady and her husband moved clear across the country to get away from her.  The scammer got away with everything she did!

Another lady, a widow, talked to me about making a trip to Africa to meet her new love interest.  A man who was perfect for her.  I asked her if she was going on a group tour with a tour guide or something like that.  She simply said no.  She told me that she was going to land, have a place to stay, and go from there.  Humm…Because I don’t step too far outside my boundaries, I gently asked her to share the plans she was making with her family or a close friend.  She said the people closest to her would never understand.  I told her that she needed to be smart and safe.  Ended up luckily, she discovered it was a scam.  The conversations that followed included her remorse for being so vulnerable.  She had many regrets.  This situation added difficulty to her grief journey!  On the upside, she did not lose anything, including her own life.

Most people who discover the scam feel ashamed and embarrassed that they were taken for a ride.  Already vulnerable and grieving, they just don’t have the bandwidth to make the best decisions for themselves.  Even though being scammed can make one feel “stupid,” it is understandable how it can happen to someone who is grieving.   

One dear friend, who is a widow, carried on a long-distance relationship with a man via Facetime.  She insisted he was legitimate.  She felt that she was in love.   This went on for two years.  My friend is a successful retired executive and small business owner.  She is well respected in both her personal and professional life.  She has a great family and is probably one of the smartest, kindest people I know.  She was so shocked at her falling for a scammer.  In her own words, she said: “I couldn’t believe I’d allowed a romance scam to happen to me!  I had to grieve the loss of the money, and the loss of the romance I thought was my future.  I also needed to forgive myself for allowing it to happen and for not listening to my son, who tried to warn me.  I am a retired IBM executive, well-traveled, and the founder of two nonprofits for resilience after loss (in memory of the three children and husband I’ve lost). I am neither stupid nor naïve. But I was targeted as a recent widow, and I was lonelier and more vulnerable than I realized at the time.  I have forgiven myself.  We are victims…  we just fell in love.”

According to the Grief Recovery Institute, there are 43 kinds of loss; death is only one of them.  Barbara has an advanced certification in their methodology, GRM (Grief Recovery Method), the only evidence-based method.  She used it to help successfully grieve this and other losses.  As caregivers for the bereaved, we should be aware of bereavement scams.  It can happen to any family, in any city across the country, at any time.  For more information, please see below:

A Butterflies Journey is a Not for Profit where you can find more information and free resources:
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – Provides consumer education, data and research, and an option to submit a complaint.

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