by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
November 16, 2006
MOM AND THE JEWEL THIEVES
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The scamsters are out in force these days. Lately I've won many lotteries in England I never even entered. And there's a never-ending supply of respectful former Nigerian government officials who are trying to send me millions of their dollars. My local bank wants to correct my online account, although I don't have an online account. And eBay wants to update my financial information, even though I've never bought or sold anything on eBay.
Yes, the crooks are swarming around us like fire ants, especially on the Internet. Their stings can be costly.
They target the greedy, the dumb and the old. The first two they can have, but they if they're smart, they'll leave my mother alone.
My mother, 89 and increasingly frail, lives alone in Florida. She cannot use the Internet, but she has a phone.
A few weeks ago she got a call from a man who said he worked for Florida Power and Light, her electric company. He wanted to do an energy audit on her house, he said. She could save a lot of money on her power bill, he said.
They made an appointment for the next Monday at 10 a.m.
But Mom had a bad feeling about him, and all through the week-end she was growing increasingly nervous. My mom is highly strung by temperament, and by Sunday she was a quivering wreck.
That's when she saw on the local news that a gang of jewel thieves was calling up people, pretending to be from FPL, gaining entrance into their homes - mostly the homes of old people, a south Florida growth industry - and stealing their jewelry.
That news put Mom right over the edge.
Since she has an active life in community theater, she called the biggest actor she knew, a true ham named Frank Colosi. Frank is well over 70, but he's also well over six feet tall. He told her he had an appointment on Monday at 10 a.m., but offered to come and sit with her until it was time for him to leave.
Mom didn't sleep at all that night.
By 7 a.m. on Monday morning she was hysterical, frantically running around the house and hiding her good jewelry in shoes, under the mattress, in the garage - in any hole she could find. Then she wisely called the police. They told her to get all the information she could out of the man when he came, then to call them back.
By this time Mom was terrified. True to his word, Frank came over early. They sat together in the living room, waiting, looking out of the window. Mom was trembling, afraid that Frank would leave before the men arrived.
But at 10 a.m. he was still there. Right on time, a black van pulled up in front of the house. A man got out and knocked on the door. Mom scurried into the kitchen to call the police. Frank confronted the man. There was a loud argument and the man turned and ran. He got into the van and it sped away down the street.
Then things got truly weird.
While they were waiting for the police, the man called and yelled at Mom because Frank, he said, had roughed him up. He had been abused! He was complaining about his treatment!
It turned out that the man had given Frank his real name, although he had lied about everything else. And so, believe it or not, the police were able to catch the gang.
The police told Mom that the way these guys worked, one man made the appointment and entered the house to start the "energy audit." After he had established himself, he opened the front door and two more men, hiding in the van, came in and ransacked the house. Several people in Mom's condominium complex had been robbed this way, and so had people in other neighborhoods.
Mom had foiled a gang of jewel thieves. After Frank left, Mom tried to collect her jewelry. But she had been so frightened that she couldn't remember where she had hidden it. Some of it may never be seen again.
Meanwhile, up in Vermont, I had no idea what was going on. Even though I feel responsible for Mom, I am useless when it comes to something like this. All I can do is feel helpless. When I called her that night - we talk pretty much every night, just to check in with each other - she told me the whole story.
She was still trembling and feeling vulnerable, but I couldn't stop laughing. She may have been scared - who wouldn't be? - but she had trusted her instincts, thought quickly, and demonstrated insight and courage. Even though I worry about her all the time, obviously she can take care of herself. I have to say I was impressed.
After she calmed down and was able to see what a remarkable thing she had done, she started laughing, too. Now it's our favorite story.
There are thieves out there, and we're all vulnerable. We don't have to be old and frail to be in their sights. I've read about a college professor who let the Nigerians stick straws into his bank accounts and suck out all his cash.
We all have to be smart, careful and skeptical. There's no free lunch, there's no lottery in England you can win without entering, there's no stranger who needs you to launder his money, and there's no reputable bank that would ask for your account and social security numbers through an unprotected email.
And there's a woman in Florida who, even though terrified, foiled a gang of jewel thieves. And I'm her daughter.
Give Joyce Marcel's book, "A Thousand Words or Less," as a Christmas gift to all your friends. It's available through joycemarcel.com. Or write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.