They Were ‘Calling to Help.’ Then They Stole Thousands

When the call ended, my parents huddled around her phone and thumbed through the unfamiliar payment apps. They eventually zeroed in on changing their passwords. They turned to the password packet, but neither she nor my dad could decipher her notes. “This was so stupid. I can’t believe I did this, so stupid,” she said, again and again. When my dad finally sat down to eat, he lifted his fork to his mouth without tasting much. That night, they barely slept.

The next day, during his lunch break, my father did what many parents with tech problems do. He called one of his children—me. I was on a work trip that kept me frantically busy, and I had just given in to the urge to take a short nap. I had barely closed my eyes when the phone rang. “Hello!” he said, his voice uncannily chipper. “Hi,” I answered cautiously. “What’s wrong?”

“I just need to talk this through and figure out how to handle this,” my dad said. I kicked the covers off and sat up straight. His voice dropped down a half octave as he abandoned his cheery tone and gave me the basic outline. His lunch break was ending soon, so we agreed to continue the conversation later. Feeling antsy, I poured myself a glass of water and paced around my Airbnb, thinking. Then I sat down at my laptop and started to type.

“Some privacy thoughts,” I wrote to my dad. “Now they have y’all’s address. Make sure she knows not to open the door for anyone she doesn’t know.” I ticked off more items: Contact Experian, the credit monitoring agency; shut down the accounts for the apps she’d installed; contact the IRS in case of identity theft.

That night, after work, my dad called back, and together we set up fraud alerts through Experian. My father texted me the password to my mom’s PayPal account, and I managed to shut it down. He got back on the line with USAA, and that night—fortunately—learned he could recoup nearly $10,000.

The relief was hollow. We still felt exposed. I hadn’t closed all the accounts yet, and we weren’t sure if the scammers could still see everything my mother typed into her phone. She still spends her days home alone. They could easily call back. My father, utterly worn out, said he couldn’t do any more that night. We hung up.

The next day, around noon, I finally called my mother to ask for her version of the events. Her reply was simple, and the pain behind her words was clear. “I did a stupid thing,” she said. “I’m so stupid.”

Her words rang in my head. Right then my mom needed a daughter, not a technical assistant. My mind jumped to skipping my flight home to California, renting a car, and rerouting to West Tennessee to reassure her in person. But I was due back at work, and I headed to the airport instead.

That day has become a clear demarcation in time for me. Sure, we got most of the money back. But I no longer trust that my parents are safe. That’s why, in the following year, I moved back to the South to be closer to home.

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