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Tom and Dianne's Savings Disappear After Seeking Help

In part 2, after a computer hacking, a "bank fraud" investigator disappears with the couple's life savings

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Full Transcript


[00:00:01] Bob: This week on The Perfect Scam.  

[00:00:04] Tom Clemens: We're sitting in a, a dark parking lot of a uh grocery store, and I'm saying, “I can't believe this is how it's going to happen." I saw the guy, the fellow approach. Uh, we were parked out by ourselves, and he approached us very chalantly, and came up to my side. And I rolled down, and I said, uh, "She's the one."  


[00:00:31] Bob: Welcome back to The Perfect Scam. I'm your host, Bob Sullivan. Last week we met Tom and Dianne Clemens, two retired professors who found a way to enjoy the imposed isolation of the pandemic even though Dianne had to be extra careful because of an earlier bout with breast cancer. Their only connection to the outside world, to their daughter and grandson in San Diego, for example, was the family computer. Then one day a horrible screeching noise interrupts their day, and the computer tells Dianne to call Microsoft for help. When she calls the number on her screen, a man who says his name is Neil tells Dianne that her computer's been hacked. Later, another man who says he is Marcus, tells Tom and Dianne their bank accounts are hacked too, this time by a bank insider and they have to work fast to get their money out without raising the suspicion of local bank employees. At about the same time, Dianne gets the awful news that her breast cancer has returned, so they're fighting a war on two fronts. We left Tom and Dianne when they were sitting in a parking lot with a box full of cash destined for Marcus and Neil. A cash handoff is the only way to avoid bank employees' suspicion, they're told. So they withdraw all their savings, hundreds of thousands of dollars. They were carefully following instructions they've been told will save their money from the criminals. 

[00:02:02] Tom Clemens: Well they were very procedural. So we get this money, we bring it home, and we call before we get to the bank, we call when we're outside the bank, because he said, "This is dangerous. We want to make sure you're not being followed, that there's not somebody on your tail." She had to count out the money, and the money would come in a hundreds usually and thousand dollar bills, and she would have to take a picture of it, or a video, and send it to him, and then put it in a box, tape it up, put his name on the outside, Marcus, take a picture, send it to him... 

[00:02:38] Bob: So that night, they're sitting in a parking lot that Marcus identified, and they sit and wait to hand over a box with tens of thousands of dollars in it. But how would they know they had the right person? 

[00:02:53] Tom Clemens: We're sitting in a, a dark parking lot of a uh grocery store, and I'm saying, "I can't believe this is how it's going to happen." Well, sure enough, this guy showed up, well-dressed, uh, in the dark, but he, he had a kind of way to signal, and they gave Dianne a code, a numbered code that this person would have to say to her before we would hand over the money. So she rolled down the window, and this person would say this number, and so then, and Marcus would always be on the phone. And he would say, "Okay, verify the code. Okay, give them the money." And so we'd give him the money, so it looked like it was a very controlled, systematic process. 

[00:03:37] Bob: So do you remember how it felt? Personally, I would be nervous just carrying that much cash, you know, anywhere, let alone a dark parking lot. 

[00:03:44] Tom Clemens: Yeah, I was nervous, but of course we were several weeks into this by this time, and she had grown to trust Marcus and Neil. And again, they've spent time with her every day on the phone and made reports. And everything she did was called in before, during, and after. So it was all very controlled, like it was all being monitored. And anyway, yeah, the guy, I saw the guy, the fellow approach. Uh, we were parked out by ourselves, and he approached us very chalantly, and came up to my side. And I rolled down, and I said, uh, "She's the one."  

[00:04:22] Bob: This same ritual is repeated several times. 

[00:04:26] Dianne Clemens: The locations were varied in town. It was within our community. They didn't want to come to our house to call attention to us because they would probably be followed and so we would meet somebody in a parking lot of a Walmart, and a person would walk over to our car. Some were nicely dressed; some were very casually dressed. They were men and women. They were, they were young and old. We probably had about 6 or 7 different people. There was always somebody else driving a vehicle which was at a distance in the parking lot, and they would walk to us. I would say to Marcus, who was on the phone with me all during this time, I never did anything without Marcus being with me. The idea was so that I would be more secure with him on the phone if there was a problem. They would have a code that they would have to repeat to me that was, that I, I had been sent by email and all those kind of things.  

[00:05:29] Bob: Even after the handoffs, Marcus carefully orchestrates what Tom and Dianne do next. 

[00:05:35] Dianne Clemens: "Leave the parking lot. Now you go home, and when you get home, you can disconnect now, but when you get home, you call me. I want to make sure that you got home safely." And we would drive home, and then we would call Marcus and Marcus would say, "I talked with this, it's all secure. We've got it, we've got the money. The money will be into your account tomorrow."  

[00:05:58] Bob: The money will be in your account tomorrow. The idea is to remove the cash from the bank, where that insider is trying to steal it, and place it into a new more secure account. After six or seven of these handoffs, it seems the whole ordeal might be over soon, and they can just focus on Dianne's cancer fight. Marcus tells Dianne...

[00:06:21] Dianne Clemens: "You will receive all of the information and all of the contact information, all of the account numbers and everything by FedEx and um, when this process is over, and uh it is all taken care of. You have done a lot of good work. You are exhausted. You have got so much going on, I'm concerned about your stress, all this happening, but we're soon done. This will soon come to an end."  

[00:06:50] Bob: This will soon come to an end. That's a relief to the couple who have a long road ahead dealing with Dianne's illness. Meanwhile, at home in San Diego, their daughter, Erika, an occupational therapist at a NICU is planning a long overdue visit. But something seems strange. Mom and Dad are always generous when she comes home, offering to pay for her flight from San Diego to St. Louis near their home in Normal, Illinois, but not this time. 

[00:07:20] Erika Clemens: When I would fly out, they would always like to pay for my plane tickets and everything, and I was like, "No, Dad. I got it. I'm fine. I'm fine." He's like, "Nope, we're sending this money. I just can't send it right now." And I'm like, "No problem, but you know, what's going on with your money?" Because they've never had a cash flow issue before. And my dad was, said, "Well oh no, it's, it's fine." He's like, "it's fine. We just did some transferring of money into something else," and he got a little impatient with me, like he couldn't, he really didn't want to talk about it, but at the time, I mean that's kind of like how my dad reacts to stuff like that with finances or anything. He just, you know, he just wants me to trust him as the parent and let him do what he wants, and so I didn't pursue it with him.  

[00:08:02] Bob: As the day of Erika's trip approaches, Dianne and Tom have moved pretty much all their savings to Marcus. The whole ordeal has now lasted nearly three months, and they're now expecting instructions on how to access that new, more secure account. But suddenly, something goes wrong. 

[00:08:24] Dianne Clemens: In February, all of a sudden, the number that I'd been given to call Marcus, he didn't answer. And I didn't hear from him for five days, totally unusual because I always heard from him pretty much five or six times a week. and so, with that, I turned to Neil, and I said, "Something's going on, because I'm not, Marcus isn't responding to me, and he's always responded to me." And he said, "Well I will check into this." And so he said, "It'll take me a few days, but I'll check into this."  

[00:08:54] Bob: Several more days pass before Neil calls back with an explanation. But it doesn't sit well with Dianne. Neil says...

[00:09:04] Dianne Clemens: "Marcus has been transferred." And I said, "Well that is just, Marcus would never do that to me. Marcus would never leave me high and dry with this." And he, Neil said, "Well his supervisor's going to call you and talk with you about this." Well the supervisor that called me then, and introduced himself as Marcus's supervisor and would be taking or finishing up the situation, our case, it was a total different personality than Marcus. Marcus was smooth. Marcus was professional. This gentleman that was supposedly his supervisor was pushy, crass, harsh, impatient, and immediately I reacted to that. Tom, beside me, reacted to that. And immediately Tom said, "We're not doing anything with you until we get a paper trail on all this."  

[00:10:10] Bob: And when Tom demands that paper trail, well, the trail suddenly grows very cold. Neil stops responding to their calls, doubt starts to creep in. And only a few days later the truth becomes obvious. there is no bank insider, no more secure checking account. Virtually all of their savings was stolen by criminals. 

[00:10:37] Bob: So how much cash are we talking about?  

[00:10:39] Dianne Clemens: $600,000. 

[00:10:40] Bob: In cash.  

[00:10:41] Dianne Clemens: Yes. Well, um, ultimately, in the cash, it was in about 400,000 I would say in that, I'd say about 200,000 by the international transfers. It took 87 days, Bob, it was 87 days that was the process. It was on February 2nd, that we realized this was absolutely a scam. 

[00:11:11] Bob: Only a few days after this devastating discovery, Erika steps on a plane from San Diego with her 6-year-old son and flies into the winter night to finally visit her parents after a long COVID-imposed separation.  

[00:11:26] Erika Clemens: So it was about mid-February, February 16th, actually. I flew home with my son, Soren, who is 6, and my parents maybe seemed a little off, um, but we drove home, it was a whole three-hour drive from St. Louis airport to my parents' town, and my mom asked if I wanted some tea once we got home and unpacked, and settled. And I said "Sure," and then we sit down and right away she spills out, she's like, "So my cancer's back." And I just burst into tears 'cause I was so not expecting that. My parents and I, we are very candid, and we talk multiples times a week, particularly on my commutes home from work, and we really share kind of everything. There's nothing that we've ever not shared with each other. So I was just really taken aback. And she was reassuring me. She was like, "Oh, it's just a little bit, it's just up there, you know by my mastectomy site. It's not a big deal. We can take care of it." I'm like "Okay, okay, yeah, yeah, yeah." And then, you know, I pulled myself together and we're just sitting in there chatting, and my dad comes into the room, and my mom's like, "Well there's one more thing we need to tell you." And I said, "Okay. What's going on?" And they said, "Well, we have been scammed and we lost all our money." And it didn't sink in at all for me. And I was like, "Oh," I said, "well, that's okay. We can, we can figure this out." You know, my parents, they were very um, they weren't emotional when they talked about it. They definitely, Dad was just kind of if anything a little stoic, and my mom wasn't even making direct eye contact, but she was very calm. 

[00:12:56] Bob: They all go to bed and wake up the next morning to greet a local detective who comes to the house to hear the whole story and write up a police report.  

[00:13:06] Erika Clemens: So, it didn't really sink into me until we were sitting there with this nice detective that showed up the next day. Honestly, my parents didn't even want me to be involved. They were very, almost terse about the whole thing in terms of very minimalist conversation about it. My mom was just so embarrassed, and so guilty, and so ashamed. The embarrassment was the main thing, I think at that point for my parents to tell me. I was very calm and reassuring, but again, I didn't know the scope of this. And it honestly had not sunk in, 'cause I still, in my delusional mind though, like well some--, this, this can't be right. I'm sure that they can get their money back, you know. So with the detective there, and I remember, he showed up, and there was no snow on the ground at that point. And during the course of the interview, which I'd say at least couple hours if not longer, it started to snow, and hard, and that was the first time I've seen falling snow in years. And it was just really what I needed at that moment to try to, it was almost like, if you talk about symbolism, it was like as I was hearing their story, and I just felt so much rage at, to these people that did this to my parents, and it was like in a way, it kind of kept me calm. It just cooled me off a little bit, and it also was so peaceful. By the time the detective left, his car was completely covered in snow. It was a winter wonderland. It was gorgeous and serene, which was completely juxtapositioned against how I was feeling inside. 

[00:14:36] Bob: They spend the next few days trying to assess the damage. Tom and Dianne still aren't able to tell the full story to their daughter.  

[00:14:45] Erika Clemens: I tried to have this can do attitude, and it's like, okay, we've got this whole list of things, so let's do them. And then we hit their budget and their income. And it was only then when I, 'cause when the detective um, wanted a confirmation of the full amount lost, my parents didn't want to tell me even at that point. I think they wrote it on a piece of paper and gave it to him. But once we started doing our budget and everything like that, and as we started working through this process, eventually my parents told me, you know, over $600,000 gone. And, and in a weird way, even though that's a lot, that's a, that's a ton of money, and of course it was devastating, but in a weird way when they finally told me that number, I, I kind of felt like I, I won them over um, in terms of trusting me. Not as a daughter that they had to protect, but as a confidante and an advocate for them if that makes sense. 

[00:15:45] Bob: As she spends more time with her mom, Erika really starts to worry about her.  

[00:15:51] Erika Clemens: The best way I can describe her was she was just simply as shell of herself. Her, her normal, and I just, I'm just like tearing up thinking about it, but the light that she normally has, it was just, she was totally shadow. And she seemed so fragile. I mean Mom has always been a very resilient individual. And she props other people up. She, you know, hasn't really had the necessity to have other people prop her up, have the need to have people prop her up, and it was really hard for me to see. The only other time I've seen my mom like that was when she was in a delirium state coming out of her double radical mastectomy surgery four years prior. I was there as they brought her up back to the floor from the post-op area. And I remember then, she was very vulnerable, and she was crying, and she was scared, and she was saying all this. Um, but again, that was a very temporary state coming out of surgery. And I remember being, I mean I remember being teary then and just being like "Mom, Mom, I'm here, you're okay, you're okay." And here we were back in this place only this was not drug-induced, she wasn't going to wake up from this. It was not a short recovery time, and I didn't know if I'd get my mom back. I'd say she was suicidal or close to it. She kept saying, she's like, "Maybe I just need to end my life." She's like, "Maybe then just, I just, I just need," she's like, "I just want to die. There's just nothing..." and I feel like for my mom it wasn't the money itself. I think it was the emotional ramification. She felt very guilty about losing this supposed inheritance for me and the security for her children someday; that weighed on her. 

[00:17:42] Bob: Erika tries to be strong for her parents, but there is a lot to process.  

[00:17:48] Erika Clemens: Well, and believe me, so I was, aside from the silent tears that I had when they were talking to the detective, I tried to be very careful to not be overly emotional with them. I tried to be more pragmatic and matter of fact, and I did not want them to see my despair over the situation, because that would just make them feel worse. I mean they already felt bad enough. But what would they would do when they'd go to bed, you know, I live in San Diego, so my clock is set later, so I'd stay up later, and I would go down into the basement, and that was also when I called my husband, and I'd just kind of, I was like whispering and crying on the phone to him that this was all going on, and he was so incredibly supportive. But I would just sit there, and I would research, I'd look on my phone, and I'd be researching all about frauds and, and you know, the scams and you know, and what happens with the people, and it's interesting how especially the senior citizen population, that if you are scammed, you’re so much, you have a shorter life expectancy. It's just like, it's like a broken heart syndrome thing. Let me tell you, I have gone back over and over and over in my head about all these phone conversations over all these months. And if we are so close, if I do feel like we have such a close relationship, how did I not pick up on this. Am I a bad daughter? I feel like a bad daughter. I feel like am I just completely insensitive? And so I was going through all that, but my primary concern was my parents' mental health, particularly my mother's. And, um, the other thing is, in the aftermath, we talked about the cancer, and so it wasn't after until I went home from this trip that it really sunk in about the cancer. And then about another week later, my mom had um, a second opinion up at Northwestern which is the physician that she sees, the oncologist, works closely with Northwestern, and so their diagnosis ultimately was, you know, metastatic, and she has triple-negative breast cancer which is a really nasty form that does not respond well with chemo, poor prognosis, and so that was so devastating. And then all of my attention switched from the whole fin--, picking up the financial pieces of this all to um, cancer, and like, okay. How much time do we have? And so it was just kind of, I mean, you know, that you talk about the shoes dropping, you know, the other shoe dropping, but it was like an octopus, because there were so many shoes. 

[00:20:18] Bob: But all of Erika's training from working with vulnerable people, the most vulnerable, newborn infants at the hospital, well that all helped prepare her for this. She knew helping her mom meant understanding where her mom was coming from.  

[00:20:33] Erika Clemens: I really felt like it was not just a scam, but it was very much a catfishing situation, because these two men created a real bond and a relationship with her, and barring the fact, you know, the obvious fact they were calling her like 8 times a day she said. And she, they would just stay on the phone with her when she was trying to deal with the banks, with the money, because you know, there are these high up fraud investigators and they were just wanting to make, it was like she was kind of a secret operative sort of person to help them to, you know, catch these scammers. And anyway, and you know, they talked about personal stuff, and they talked about their life and then, you know, she told them all about her cancer and her cancer coming back. So it's like these scammer in December knew my mom had cancer again. I didn't know, but these scammers sure did. 

[00:21:22] Bob: Oh God, that sounds terrible.  

[00:21:24] Erika Clemens: Yeah, and they would tell her, you know, this is what she told me, but they would tell her, "You know what, we, we are just going to be taking care of you, just like we would take care of our own mothers. You are just like our mother. We, we see you in that same light. We, we have you, we've got your back, Dianne. We are going to protect your money; we're going to keep your money safe. And we are, not only are you helping yourself and your family, but you're also going to be helping so many other people to catch these, these scammers." So um, I feel like there is a special place in hell for people like this, but so she was incredibly vulnerable, and the scammers would have no way of knowing this, but I, I felt my mom had like a shard of her heart missing because she's had my brother, um, has been somewhat estranged from our family for the last five years, and it created this empty spot in my mom that I can't fill. It's a place for her other child. And I feel like because she misses him and their relationship, he, and you know, he's, he's a guy, and it was these two young men calling, I felt in some ways they fit right into that slot, that empty space in her heart. 

[00:22:44] Bob: Dealing with the loss means so much more than dealing with the theft.  

[00:22:49] Erika Clemens: And part of, this is, of course, just my theory, but I do also see it too because after when all this happened and when she'd outburst or cry or sob or whatever, kind of relive the trauma of it during all this, um, when we were picking up the pieces, she would she would comment again, it wasn't about the money or the lack thereof of money for them and their own security, she would talk about the betrayal. She kept referring to it as a betrayal. 

[00:23:18] Bob: Little by little, they start to work on next steps.  

[00:23:23] Erika Clemens: I knew we had to report it to all these different agencies online, and I knew that we had to go over their budget. Like I didn't know what their income was, and I didn't know what their budget was. Like I had to get into the nitty gritty to help them figure this out. And as my dad said, he's like, "Erika, no, we got this, we got this." And I'm like, "Dad, I am so sorry, but I don't think you do. Just if anything, even just a, just, just to assuage my own anxiety, please, let me help you with this, because I just need to know what's going on." So very, very reluctantly they opened up, um, with their finances over the course of that couple weeks. You know, and it was a lot of processing, a lot of grieving. Um, I wanted to be very mindful that I was not judging them. 

[00:24:12] Bob: Erika did everything she could think of, but in the end, there wasn't really anything she could do about the money.  

[00:24:21] Erika Clemens: And I felt so much rage and a lot of this was my own naivete, you know that I didn't understand how the system worked, and I thought back to that first conversation when my mom told me, um, my parents told me, and here I thought, oh, we'll be able to get that money back or some of it back, or you know, they'll catch these bad guys, or, you know, this will be resolved to the point where no one could do anything. The police couldn't do anything, the FTC, the FBI, no one could do anything. 

[00:24:51] Bob: The $600,000, everything they saved from two lifetimes of caring for young people, it was gone forever. But while the money is gone, Erika says her mom feels much better now, thanks in no small part to regular visits with family.  

[00:25:09] Erika Clemens: I can say now that my mom's back. I've been to see them many times, um, if anything, I guess, cancer and these scams and just trauma in general, I guess it shows is that we are promised nothing but the moments we have, like right now, so I'm going back and forth, you know, between California and Illinois, and I'm spending that time with them, supporting them, being with them, and honestly to say they, they support me too. I mean they're my parents and they're also my friends, and you know we have lots of laughs and we enjoy each other's company. 

[00:25:46] Bob: Many of these last come courtesy of a 6-year-old grandson from Southern California who, it turns out, has a thing for the snow.  

(sound clip of playing in the snow)

[00:26:00] Bob: They discovered that during one of their first visits. 

[00:26:01] Erika Clemens: My dad took Soren to go sled at the sledding hill in town. You know, he was outside building forts, he built his first snow fort, he built his first snowman, you know, he went sledding for the first time. He absolutely loved it. It turns out ironically, you know, being from San Diego, he's a complete snow baby. And I've never seen him respond this way at the beach. He loves the snow. Doesn't complain about the cold or, you know, pulling that sled up the hill or anything. So my parents did a great job taking turns with him as I was working on all this stuff to help them get through all this, spending time with him and again, really just enjoying the moments, um, because it's hard to sit and think too much and long and hard and feel too depressed when you have a 6-year-old, because you have to live in the moment with a 6-year-old. 

[00:26:57] Bob: In fact, Tom had to cut my interview with him a little bit short because he had a 6-year-old to go attend to. I asked if Erika was visiting during the conversation, and she said, no.  

[00:27:09] Erika Clemens: No, I'm actually, I'm back in San Diego still. So, I mean this, so this summer my mom has always wanted to, to have her grandchildren stay with them in the summer. You know this year was the perfect year for Soren, you know, old enough, he's potty-trained, and temper tantrums are, you know, over, and so we made this plan even before um, we knew the cancer came back, that this summer they, they were going to have Soren for a few weeks. He's just getting to the age where he's really making memories and remembering his grandparents and, you know, and all that good stuff. And what I love is they're forming relationships independent of me and my influence, and I mean they were amazing parents, so I want my son to have his own relationship and experience with them. But anyways, so yeah, he's back in Illinois right now with them, and they are having a blast. My mom is getting weekly chemo infusions, and my dad taught Soren to ride a bike. It was like every day; I mean Soren is like Calvin of Calvin & Hobbs if you remember that. I mean just absolutely hating the bike and scared of the bike and the whole thing, and my husband and I have tried over time to like get him to ride this bike and nope, nope, nope, nope. And anyway, so my dad has been working with him for over a month on this, and he finally took off, and it was the most awesome thing. And now Soren loves to ride the bike. So now he and my dad are biking all over. So they're having a great time. I, honestly, Soren being there is the best medicine for both of them. So they vacillate between exasperation with a 6-year-old to, to what she says is, you know, he just says something that just melts their heart and they just bust out laughing. I think she's having the time of her life now. 

[00:28:50] Bob: Of course, it's not easy. The criminals who stole their life savings knew what they were doing. Dianne says a really important part of the scam was the isolation she felt making sure she trusted the criminals and distrusted the bank employees.  

[00:29:08] Bob: And so that was why, whenever you worked with these institutions, you had to be pretty careful about what you said to them, right, and that's part of how they kept you isolated. 

[00:29:18] Dianne Clemens: That's exactly right. And so, you know, logic would tell you that I would go to my local bank, and I'd say, "What the heck's going on here?" Um, but I didn't because a question mark was, had been placed in my head. 

[00:29:31] Bob: In fact, the criminals turn the bank into the enemy, Tom said. 

[00:29:37] Tom Clemens: The hackers, Marcus and Neil, were talking to her every day, if not two or three times a day. And I can remember one specific day when she was really questioning what we were doing. Neil spent two hours with her on the phone because early on she said, "Well, if, how do I know you're not the hackers?" And so they would, they had their little speeches ready and, and they talked her into the fact that how could they be hackers if they talked to her every day, they reported back on what they were doing. They uh, told her their names, et cetera, and they had a phone number that she could call at any time if she had any questions. So this was a well setup facade for people to fall into another world, an alternative world where you think you're protecting yourself, but you're not.  

[00:30:31] Bob: On a really human level, the criminals were kind while the bank employees were cold, Dianne said. 

[00:30:40] Dianne Clemens: Marcus and Neil were empathic, kind, always said, "Take care of yourself, Dianne, you've got, you're under tremendous pressure. Take good care of Tom. You don't need to ever cancel an appointment with us because of a medical appointment. You just, you know, whatever you have to do. You have enough money to cover your medical appointments right now. Make sure that we don't withdraw so much money and transfer to another account that you don't have enough money for your daily living. This all costs lots of money. This is so difficult." That's how they talked to me. They became my friend. They hit me at a, at an area of vulnerability that I didn't even know I was vulnerable with. The contrast between them and the banks, was stark. And the dissonance that that caused me took its toll, because I could not understand how the banks could be so indifferent. So uncaring. Or so cavalier.  

[00:31:45] Bob: Erika has advice to offer financial institutions. 

[00:31:50] Erika Clemens: When people come in and they're doing all the red flags, you can't just say, oh, well you're being, you're being frauded, you know, you're defrauded, you're, this is a fraud. This is a scam. Because the people that come in asking to transfer money or, or withdraw money or whatever the case may be, first of all, they don't know you from Adam, and they've clearly already established a relationship with the scammer, and the scammers are highly sophisticated.  

[00:32:17] Bob: Tellers should be trained to ask a series of very pointed questions, she thinks.

[00:32:23] Erika Clemens: Are you working with someone in fraud detection right now? Have you been told at any point that you're not supposed to say the reason why you're here? And it can't just be one question, but it has to be, I don’t know, maybe 8, 10 questions to try to infiltrate what essentially is a brainwashed mind I would say. And also coming up from a place where they're the victim, not the perpetrator. Because the minute you accuse them of being a perpetrator, well, you know, you, you've lost all your rapport. And that goes for any field, you know. I can't walk into a room in the NICU, and I can't be telling the parents that they don't know what they're doing, and I'm the expert, and your baby is just fine, your baby will just be fine. Just trust me. I mean the minute you start talking like that is they're not going to trust you and, and there's really no area where you can do that to people and expect them to listen to you and expect them to build a new sort of sense of trust or credibility. So, and the bank is no different. That's what I think would have to change.  

[00:33:26] Bob: Erika is onto something. AARP has developed an online training program for front-line bank employees called BankSafe -- a A 2019 research report by Virginia Tech found that bank workers trained on BankSafe spotted attempted exploitation four times as often as their peers. The program is now being deployed by retailers too, to train cashiers to spot gift card payment fraud. The program is free. Find out more at AARP.ORG/BANKSAFE

[00:33:58] Bob: As for the future for Tom and Dianne, well there are still plenty of challenges ahead. One unhappy surprise Tom and Dianne say they've lost some friends recently.  

[00:34:10] Dianne Clemens: Actually a lot of our friends don't talk with us anymore, period. They have just kind of left us because I know they're uncomfortable with this. They're projecting their own feelings on this and thinking, what would I do or man, that might happen. If it can happen to Dianne and Tom, it can happen to me, so, and so they just ignore us and they avoid us. 

[00:34:33] Bob: You've lost friends over this? 

[00:34:36] Dianne Clemens: Yes. We have. 

[00:34:38] Bob: Wow. 

[00:34:39] Dianne Clemens: People don't know how to deal with difficult subjects. And money is a big one. I thought cancer was a big one. But money is even a bigger one. I don't know if people thought that we were going to ask them for money or whatever, but we wrote all of our friends and said, this is what's happened. We don't want your pity, we just need your support, we just need your understanding, we're not going to be able to do the things, because this was our discretionary money, so we're not going to be able to do the things maybe with you that we used to do. We can't go on the vacations and those kinds of things that we used to because this is, that was the money we used for that. But we'll be okay. But just stand by us. We never heard from a lot of those people. Never heard a word. So it's their uncomfortableness, I'm assuming, but it can also be interpreted to me as indifference or lack of caring. But I really believe they just are inept in what to say. 

[00:35:37] Bob: So what could friends say that would be more helpful?  

[00:35:42] Dianne Clemens: The point that I would really like to make is that if you know somebody who has been scammed, and if they are strong enough, brave enough to talk with you about it, listen. Just listen to them. And don't make a lot of comments. The type of things people say to us is, "Oh, you'll just bounce back from this." "Oh, I'll bet you'll get all your money back." "You're so strong, Dianne, you can handle anything." Not helpful. What would be helpful if you're talking to somebody who has been scammed or has gone through any big loss or any big catastrophic life change, is just to say things like, "It must be difficult." "I support you." "Anything I can do to support you or help you?" "I don't know what to say, it sounds so horrific what you have gone through. Anything I say would be trite, but know that I care." Those are helpful statements. We have found only a few people in our life that can handle that. 

[00:37:08] Bob: Dianne is still working on her physical health, but her emotional health is much better.  

[00:37:14] Dianne Clemens: You have a choice, and you have to pull it together. You know, you just have to go put one foot forward. The best thing we did is to talk, start talking about it. Our daughter encouraged us to not be secret about it. And if you have been scammed, you need to talk to people about it. It's ideal if you talk to people before, while you're being scammed or while, if, if you have a question, this is something I think that if somebody told once that is good. If you think you're being scammed, you probably are. And so we had our doubts, but we didn't talk to people about it, we didn't even tell our children. And so we thought we were handling it correctly. So talk if you have a question, but if you do get scammed, talk to people about it, because I realized I was not going to let this have hold and power over me for the rest of my life. And the only way I could let go of their control was to talk about it.

[00:38:11] Bob: Erika reminded me that it's also important to understand that people deal with trauma in different ways.  

[00:38:19] Erika Clemens: I think I mentioned before how, you know, my dad, you know, still waters run deep in my dad. He was working on stuff deep down, and he just wasn't verbal about it. My mom, my mom and I take more after my mom, but we can be very verbose, you know, and, and we can express our emotions and we're not afraid to do so. And probably towards the end of my two weeks when I was home, my dad said at some point when asked how he was doing, and before this he was just, you know, brushing everything off essentially, he said, "You know, I can finally look in the mirror to shave. I can finally look in the mirror and shave without internally just screaming at myself the whole time." So he's like, "So I guess maybe I'm, I'm getting there. I'm a little better." And so I would say that to be mindful of those that have been through something, but they aren't as (sigh) able to express um, what they need or the support they need, or just being there. I think just being there. Just know that you're there to support. I think that would be helpful. 

[00:39:27] Bob: Healing is, of course, a process.  

[00:39:31] Erika Clemens: Ironically, I think a big part of this from the emotional state that the scam left her in, I think the cancer, the metastatic cancer diagnosis woke her up, kind of like it woke all of us up. Of course it's ironic how, you know, if you lose a bunch of money, people say, well at least you have your health. Well, we don't, you know, we don't have that in our case. But what we have is like the here and now. We have the time we have right now. We have the present. And so we are riding this wave of ambiguity. We don't know, you know, what the future holds for us, but we are, we are living it up. My mom exercises most days of the week. And she's like, "Well I feel like I'm exercising for my life, you know, I need to do this." And my mom wants to live. And we talk about life and death issues, and that can be hard for people. My mom says, "I'm not ready to die yet. I want to live, and I feel like I have a few years in me that I want to live. So I'm going to do everything in my power, be it exercise, be it just a mindful, mind-clearing meditation, be it just making an intention that I'm not going to let this scam ruin the rest of my life." And she says, she said many times, she's like, "I'm not going to let this scam define me and the rest of my life."

[00:40:53] Bob: Dianne, as it seems she always does, has found a way to look on the bright side.  

[00:41:01] Bob: So where are things today? 

[00:41:05] Dianne Clemens: We’re alive, we're doing just fine. So um, let me say, we have a pension, we do not have um, all of our discretionary money. We were in the middle of a home remodeling, and so we had a garage full of lumber, windows, and doors. And suddenly we're unable to pay for the contractor to do the work with it all. It's still there. And we're pecking away at it, Tom himself working on this a little bit at a time to try to work on this home project, but it'll take a long time. We, early on, liked this phrase, it is "Not all storms come into your life to create chaos. Some storms come into your life to clear the path." And I like that, and that sustains me. So I am thinking that our path needed to be cleared. It was a helluva way to go through the process.  


[00:42:23] Bob: If you have been targeted by a scam or fraud, you are not alone. Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. Their trained fraud specialists can provide you with free support and guidance on what to do next. Thank you to our team of scambusters; Executive Producer, Julie Getz; Researcher, Haley Nelson; Associate Producer, Annalea Embree; and of course, our Audio Engineer, Julio Gonzalez. Be sure to find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. For AARP's The Perfect Scam, I'm Bob Sullivan.  



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In Part 2, after Tom and Dianne’s computer and bank accounts are hacked, they rely on a bank fraud investigator named Marcus to guide them through the lengthy process of moving their money to safe accounts. But when Tom asks to see a paper trail, Marcus suddenly disappears — with their $600,000 in life savings. Tom and Dianne are left to pick up the pieces with the help of friends and family.  

The Perfect ScamSM is a project of the AARP Fraud Watch Network, which equips consumers like you with the knowledge to give you power over scams.


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