On Almost Being Scammed

After a solid week of rain, we finally saw a little sunshine on Saturday and Sunday. It felt great…no, amazing…to be outside, hands in the dirt, breathing in fresh air and letting go of the frustrations of a week of trying to field a lot of curveballs.

We continue to struggle with the impact of COVID-19. Our county now has 22 cases and our stores are not able to keep up with the growing demand for supplies as people try to stock up to stay home. My sister works at a grocery store and while she is probably the toughest person I know, even she is having difficulty dealing with the rudeness of people demanding things that just aren’t available right now.

I’m still working my Target gig one day a week but I have a feeling that may end soon. Another merchandising gig that I accepted back in February is on indefinite hold. That company is still paying it’s employees partial salary (I am not technically an employee so this does not apply to me). And while I have now signed a contract for the freelance editing job I mentioned a few weeks back, that is not likely to begin until mid to late April. But we are okay, and that’s all that matters.

Despite all of this, our biggest issue this week was not directly related to the virus. On Tuesday, my mom was almost duped by a scammer posing as an agent of the Social Security Administration. He almost convinced her that someone had stolen her identity and was in the process of having her move her money from the bank to a safer location (ie. a prepaid debit card that he undoubtedly planned to have her give him the number of).

My mom is not usually one to fall for this sort of thing but somehow on that day, he caught her in a vulnerable state. She had not slept well for a few nights and had taken something to help her rest. When she answered the phone, she was not yet fully awake or aware and before she knew it, she was headed to the bank. I thank God, the Universe, and the folks at Walgreen’s for what I can only call divine intervention. The scammer had told my mom not to call me or tell anyone what was going on, so that’s what she did. She managed to go to the bank and withdraw most of her money without drawing attention (though the bank teller later told me that she felt as if something was off but she did not know what to say or do). Still on the phone with the scammer, my mom stopped at Walgreen’s to buy a prepaid debit card. The cashier thought she looked distraught and this time, someone asked all the right questions. The store manager talked to the scammer and ultimately called the police. The situation could have been a lot worse that it was.

Our elderly friends, neighbors, and family members are disproportionately at risk for so many things that it’s not even funny. Right now, they are worried about getting a virus that could kill them and worried about having enough supplies to last so they don’t have to go out. They worry about getting sick from the non-virus-related conditions they were already facing before this occurred. They worry about being even more alone than they already are if their friends and family can’t come to visit. They worry that things will not get better in what’s left of their lifetime. And on top of that, there are people out there trying to rip them off. All. The. Time. The kinds of scams that my mom faced this week are way too common – so common in fact that they have entire websites of information dedicated to them.

Since this incident, I’ve put protocols in place to alert me if she withdraws more than a certain amount from her bank account, to alert both of us if there’s ever a real threat of identity theft, and I’ve frozen her credit report so that accounts can’t be opened in her name. We did this for our own credit reports about a year ago and should have done it for her then.

We also had a family meeting and expressed our concerns about all that is going on in the world around us. The result of that meeting – my mom would rather see me every other day than not. It’s something she looks forward to and something that keeps her from feeling alone. We all realize that she (or we) could be exposed to the virus (since I still go into stores for work) so we’re just going to be more vigilant than ever in making sure we wash our hands, disinfect our shoes, and wipe off any groceries we bring in. COVID-19 is a terrible situation but it’s not the only thing that our loved ones can fall victim to.

Meanwhile in Our Neighborhood…

As I am writing this post, we have not yet had a confirmed case of COVID-19 in our town. That’s not to say that we have not had all the madness that is accompanying the virus. Schools are closed. Shelves are empty. Traffic is pretty light (except around the shopping centers). Doctor’s offices are rescheduling routine appointments and Walgreen’s keeps calling every other day wanting to switch my mom’s medications to 90-day refills (newsflash Walgreen’s…we already get 90-day refills). And as it usually happens in an emergency/disaster/unusual situation, people almost inadvertently do the opposite of what is recommended – like socialize in public places and hug one another.

You may know from past posts that I’m a magnet for over-sharers in public places. It’s as if I have a sign on me that says, “I’m an excellent listener. Please tell me your life story.” And usually, I don’t mind. It’s how I meet some interesting people and learn some really cool things. It’s how we first learned about our favorite hobby (letterboxing) and how we found the $5 all-you-can-eat salad bar at the diner across town. But, I can’t help but think…if this virus is spread primarily through social contact, why are so many folks talking to and touching each other in the grocery store, the breezeway, the gas station, and even the car wash?? I’ve held conversations with, reluctantly shook hands with, and been hugged by more people this week than on the day of my grandma’s funeral.

My sister says that I’m surely going to die now. But then again, she also fussed at me for not buying toilet paper so I’m not sure I believe her.

Personally, we pay very little attention to the media and rely instead on the facts – what we see for ourselves and what we learn directly from reputable sources (like the CDC and WHO). Sadly that’s not the case for everyone. The media can and does make a meal off of our fears and the sheer reporting of the madness is often what drives the madness itself. This virus (or pandemic, as it’s being called) has disrupted so much for so many (either real or imagined) that I wanted to take a moment to check in and let everyone know that our life has been pretty much normal (aside from the hugging) this week.

We got some good news. The seeds we planted last week are starting to sprout and my interview for the freelance editing position went well. I’m just waiting to hear back from the HR department regarding next steps.

We experienced frustration. We had to go to Walmart, Kroger, Food Lion, Save-a-Lot, and Dollar General to get my mom’s weekly groceries and supplies because of scenes like this:

We also had our share of sadness. Our housing survey took us into a neighborhood that had been almost completely destroyed by the recent tornado. A former co-worker’s husband committed suicide. And a local missing person story that we’ve been following for weeks did not have a happy ending.

We worked. On our housing surveys, our garden plans, and met with a contractor to fix a rotting column on my mom’s front porch.

And we had some fun. My mom took us out the dinner one night. We made a chicken-less pot pie using flour tortillas for the crust on another. We watched TV, read a book, and had a chance to stop by Sprouts to do our kind of bulk shopping – for nuts, seeds, grains, and dried beans.

In short, we got up every day and just went on about the business of living.

I’m not making light of the situation, nor are we burying our heads in the sand when it comes to what’s going on with COVID-19. We are concerned, mostly because we have an elderly family member and one with a congenital heart problem, but concern doesn’t mean we need to panic or buy into the need to panic. We’ve learned over the years that bad things happen every single day. We can’t control that but we can control what we focus our own attention on, and now, as always, we’re choosing to focus ours on just doing what we can to live our best life every day.