(Please read my mother Jessica’s story first)
Although mother was suffering from age-related mild confusion and memory loss prior to the start of this story, her way of dealing with it had been to double check everything was switched off and locked up. She hadn’t appeared to be in any danger living alone. She was fiercely independent, sociable and managing fine.
Immediately after my mother’s death I knew I had to bring what had happened to my family to the attention of the media. The scammers had not just controlled my mother Jessica’s life for the past five years; they had also been responsible for breaking the strong bond that my mother and I had always shared.
After we, as a family, finally managed to stop my mother from buying huge amounts of goods she neither needed, nor could afford, from Reader’s Digest, we thought our problems were over. Mother had always been independent and self-sufficient. She would regularly catch the bus into town and always took great pride in her appearance. “Young at heart”, was the phrase Mum always used to describe herself.
Things all changed when she replied to that very first scam letter. Her personality altered in a way that became very difficult for the family to deal with. It was as if she had been brainwashed, or was in a cult. She was totally convinced that the paperchases the criminals were laying would eventually lead to a pot of gold. For mother, the money that she was continually sending was an investment that would make her secure in her final years.
She was worried that her ongoing medical condition might lead to her having to depend on others if she lost the ability to stay mobile. In her mind the forthcoming ‘awards’ took away all of those fears.
She wasn’t overly concerned about not having much money. What caused her the most stress was when those of us who cared tried to separate her from the criminal mail. There was never any ‘if’ about her winnings arriving. She had even bought a dress to wear for the ‘winner’s party’ that the scammers had told her was being held in Australia.
Every Christmas she would become very anxious. She felt very upset and embarrassed at not being able to give gifts to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She invented excuses for not receiving the ‘promised cheque’ in time, saying things like: “The Christmas post causes a lot of mail to get delayed or lost.” Once the festive season was over, she would get back to her main occupation in life – reading, sorting, replying and sending her cash off on time.
My mother lived in her own delusional world – a world created by her daily post. In it she was made to feel special, important and wealthy. Her so called ‘friends’ had abducted her mind, and she had been groomed by the clairvoyants into ignoring all doubters and believing they were the only ones who cared about her happiness. Even those who used threats to obtain money she called her ‘friends’, because they told her they were desperate to help her and wanted to remove the bad energy or curse – for a fee, of course.
She was at the mercy of criminals who were working in organised gangs and I was powerless to help. Even if she had agreed to taking a mini mental health test (which she never would) I am confident she would have passed. To outsiders she seemed quite capable of taking care of her home and herself.
I found drafts of some of the many letters mother had written to those she perceived as her ‘friends’. They are heartbreaking. She confided to them about everything – from wanting to pay privately to get her missing teeth sorted out, to which charities she intended to help. She trusted and befriended those who were manipulating, teasing and taking from her in whatever disgusting way they could. How can any human being be so cruel?
It would be impossible for me to list all the many ways we tried to persuade, bribe, cajole, and sometimes even force my mother to stop responding to the scams. Many arguments erupted amongst our family as my mother stood firm in her decision to control her own finances. I must admit there were times when I would reduce her to tears because I could not contain my frustration.
There were other times when I would drive her to the Building Society and wait outside while she drew out all her pension and sent it off to the scammers. On those occasions, what I was really wanting was to spend quality time with my Mum. Going along with her was the only way we could spend a day without arguments. At times she would ask me to drive her round to look at houses that were for sale, saying that she wanted ‘to set up’ the grandchildren before she died. Sometimes it was a pleasant change to take her, and I often found myself going along with her.
Her electricity was on a pay-as-you-go meter because she had not kept up with her bills. Although I always made sure it was topped up and would take her shopping and pay for her food, I often felt bitter inside, and I would be ‘nasty’ to her because I felt as if I was subsidising the criminals.
She even missed a family wedding, and other invitations, so that she could be in when the courier arrived. Even if I didn’t help her, she was brainwashed and controlled by the criminals to such an extent that she would willingly live on tea and toast.
Mother and I had always had a very close relationship – she would regularly come and stay at my home. As she got more and more involved with the scammers, she often refused to spend nights away. After just one night she was always impatient to get home, worried that she might miss a ‘delivery’ from an Australian lottery or some other bogus company.
She told me that if I discussed her business with anybody else she would disown me, but still I tried to seek help. I contacted the police, social services and every charity with Help, Concern and Support in the title, as well as her local MP. But the advice that I always got was to tell her: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”, and that she should not respond, but just put the post in the bin. Mother’s postman said: “If you think your Mum gets a lot of scam mail, you should see what some of them (pensioners) are getting”. At that point Mum’s postman was delivering around 30 scams a day to her from all over the world.
Mother began to have panicky feelings, and claimed she was having funny turns. She refused to visit the doctor by saying that they were caused by a spiritual, not a medical, problem. (The clairvoyant scammers had put these thoughts into her head). At the end of July 2007 my mother was taken into hospital. She came out after about two weeks, but a few days later she started to be violently sick and then she collapsed. She was readmitted. We were told that she had had a heart attack, but I’m not sure if that was ever confirmed.
It was then that I removed around 30,000 scam mail letters from her home. I still have these in storage. I also found letters threatening disconnection from the gas and water board, and a letter from a bailiff threatening to remove the contents of her house. With hindsight, I think they were probably scam letters too! The vile clairvoyant’s letter, that she couldn’t afford to respond to, was on the kitchen table, along with a letter of apology, handwritten by Mum, asking for more time to get her finances sorted.
We couldn’t believe how much money she had spent on goods from catalogues, including Vital Beauty, Biotonic, Vitamail, Friedrich Mueller, Best Of and other companies that sold overpriced goods and tat. They all continually tricked her into believing that a cash prize had already been allocated in her name and she was just one order away from receiving it. She had also taken out thousands of pounds in loans to pay criminals behind a poetry scam. Based on going through her personal correspondence, she could well have parted with anything up to £50,000, but the truth is I don’t really know. It would be more accurate to say she gave them everything, including her mental and physical health and the last five years of her life.
In desperation, I forged my own authentic-looking document and gave it to my Mum in hospital. I wrote: ‘All the competitions have now closed. You won’t be getting any more mail and you will receive your winnings in the New Year.’ This wasn’t a false promise because, unbeknown to my Mum, my husband had arranged to sell a thin strip of land that belonged to my mother’s terraced house. We were going to surprise her with the £15,000!
When Mum came out of hospital, I moved in with her for three weeks. The bond we once had finally returned. Even though I had to get her a wheelchair, we went out most days and looked at all the things she could buy with her ‘winnings’. Mum was delighted when I helped her to plan the big party we were going to have when the payout arrived. We planned to have pink balloons and pink champagne.
She never suspected that the absence of her mail had anything to do with me. My lovely, trusting Mum really believed that at last she had proved us all wrong. With the scam mail finally gone I thought she was going to get better.
In the middle of October I went on a holiday that had been planned the previous year. My aunts took over, and I also arranged with Social Services for someone to call in, so I knew mother was in safe hands. While I was away I was counting the days until I could get back to her. The day before I was due back I got a call from my aunt. Mum had been rushed back into hospital. The following day I had three precious hours holding her hand as I sat beside her hospital bed. Mum had held my hand 23 years earlier, when I had given birth to my daughter. Jessica passed away October 24, 2007, aged 83.
One of the last things she said was: “Marilyn, has the post been?”
We had the pink party for all the family and the children, just like we had planned, but it was my mother’s funeral. The songs I chose were: I Believe, Everything is Beautiful and Downtown.
Thank you to all the people who worked in Derby, for their kind words and condolences. I know Mum loved visiting The Eagle Centre. The thought that so many people knew and missed her has meant such a lot. One lady who works on The Eagle Market told me: “Your mother used to show me some of her ‘award’ letters. We wondered why her family had allowed her to get scammed.” Well, now you all know.
If we do nothing to protect those who are being exploited, for whatever reason – because of their vulnerability, trust, confusion or ignorance – how can we ever stop this horrendous criminal activity?
I know there is nothing I can do to bring my wonderful Mum back. I just hope my story will help others who find themselves in a similar position.