The art of the con: How fearmongering money-grubbers honed in on my dad with dementia

My father has some mild dementia. He’s still himself in all the important ways, but he exhibits strange habits and deficiencies, and most notable among them: He is utterly powerless to resist the siren call of the political action groups who send him letters with brilliantly worded requests for money.

These smooth talkers are absolute masters of whipping up urgency around their issues and hastening action (meaning: money) from their audience. It’s a clinic in persuasive writing. In my days as a catalog copywriter, I could have used a dose of this kind of motivational magic — too bad I wasn’t capable of such crass or exploitative behavior.

Their plights are desperate; they are going to be honest with me, things are looking grim at the moment; they are reluctant to ask more from Americans at this time, but the threats to liberty are just too dire; they must hear from me as soon as possible because THE FATE OF OUR COUNTRY HANGS IN THE BALANCE.

And oh, that fearsome pixie dust has worked wonders on my father, who has given money to just about all of them before his children stepped in to protect his dwindling bank account. Of course, it’s a little too late: once you get hooked by just one money-hungry organization, your name gets around to all the others. It’s like the Politcal Action Committee version of having your name Sharpied on a bathroom wall. For a good time, mail your solicitation to …

Mailman's bane.

That pile in the upper left is all "guaranteed winner" sweepstakes notifications. Just send $10 to collect your prize -- which could be up to $2 million! Wowzers!

Here’s the full contents of my father’s mailbox in August, carted from his apartment in heavy-duty bags and piled high on my dining room table: more than 250 pleas from solicitors, panhandling of the basest, most typographically invasive kind.

The causes are universally conservative — if it mentions Hillary, the death tax, or the United Nations, my father most assuredly sent $10, $15, $25. Never mind that Hillary is not the president, or that his particular assets will never be subject to a death tax, or that the UN has yet to gain access to my larder and steal my baby formula.

I’m sure there are liberal fearmongers, too, but they’re not lurking in my father’s mailbox. The only species I’ve observed in the wild is the Shamelus republicanus, and as I say, they are supremely skilled at juking old folks out of their cash.

That’s right, Mr. Scott! At a time when we are drowning in a sea of debt, threatened by Swine Flu and other new infectious diseases from Mexico, and overwhelmed by an invading army of illegal aliens … the Obama Administration is quietly advancing the construction of a massive “Superhighway” that will all but obliterate our borders with Canada and Mexico.

— Americans Against U.N. Control

These God-hating liberals want to take the cross off public land? Why don’t THEY get “crossed off”?! Let’s “cross off” the God-hating liberal groups who want to attack decent people like you and me at every turn.

–In God We Trust (The Rt. Rev. Council Nedd II, honorary national chariman)

Dear Fellow Christian,

I firmly believe that Hillary Clinton hates you.

— Christian Voice, a program of American Service Council

Not long before a census worker was hanged in Kentucky with the word “Fed” scrawled across his chest, my father received this thoughtful lecture in the mail from a group called the Southeastern Legal Foundation:

Because when the full extent of Obama’s power grab over the 2010 Census becomes known to the public, I believe the American people will be up in arms.

As you know, the 2010 Census is a source of unrivaled power … it will decide the fate of thousands of political offices and TRILLIONS of dollars in government money … and Obama is making an outrageous bid to manipulate it to guarantee a permanent liberal takeover of America.

It doesn’t take much imagination to picture an excitable Kentuckian getting this same piece of mail, and deciding to keep that “source of unrivaled power” out of the hands of … well, with such unsubtle lynching symbolism, it’s hard not to guess who. That murderer’s message was directed a little higher up the federal chain than Census Bureau worker Bill Sparkman, don’t you think? Not that race has anything to do with it, of course.

My father made me his power of attorney a few years ago, so with some firm encouragement from my siblings and me (as well as flat-out taking away his checkbook and canceling his high-limit credit card) we’re making strides in stemming the outflow of dollars. When he reported that he couldn’t “mentally face the task” of dealing with his mounds of mail, I began hauling it away and trying to find a way to respond.

At first I took to venting my frustration by using snark. When the “Friends of President Bush and the Agenda for America” sent him two one-dollar bills with a desperate plea for him to send it back (plus a little extra, of course), I pocketed the greenbacks and used the postage-paid envelope to reply:

Thanks for the 2 bucks. Keep ’em coming!

When Sen. Mark Wallop (R-SD), sent my father an “emergency NO OBAMACARE petition” (i.e., request for money), I replied:

I have bunions. What will your plan do for my bunions?

But these were empty gestures. I can’t really hope to out-frustrate these jackals with barbs and sarcasm. So I’ve adopted a new tactic. I’m opening every letter. If there is a reply envelope (usually there is), I include a piece of the solicitor’s own mail bearing my father’s address, circle it, and staple this note just above:

“My father has dementia, and would gladly give away the last of his savings to anyone who asked. PLEASE remove him from your mailing list at once and leave him in peace. Since most solicitors send repeated mailings, I’ve noted your address and will be watching.”

Which is true, too. Before I mail back the letter, I note the return address (and any P.O. Box, just to be thorough) so if future mail comes in from those addresses, I can send back slightly more strongly worded demands of decency. So far, I’ve got a list of 108 names and address of offending organizations, from the vague (“Americans for Prosperity”) to the thoroughly bonkers (“White House Watch” — who sent a “Petition for Impeachment” because of, you know, birth certificates and Fascism and Obama “representing the interests of our enemies”).

If it works to reduce my father’s mail, it won’t be much of a victory, really. It’s just a quiet retreat, not a retort of blistering rhetoric that these jackals deserve. But when the enemy is this…

There all ways shure to keep it faire and ballanced!!1!

… it’s hard to put much faith in a battle of logic … or a war of wits.


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16 responses to “The art of the con: How fearmongering money-grubbers honed in on my dad with dementia

  1. Brian

    I’m shocked that this kind of stuff goes on. Bless you and your family for taking the time and energy to go through it all and protect your dad like this!

  2. Bezer

    Way to go Bud! I missed this originally, but just happened to be scrolling down through the list. I think you’ve found an avenue to “shout it out” to all who are unknowingly tucking their parents into bed thinking they are safe from the real evildoers and terrorists praying on them (with the help of our bankrupt U.S. Postal Service). Now I know how they are trying to get into the black again…

    Keep shouting until someone hears you. We aren’t the only family who’s Dad (or Mom) is being abused this way.

    Brian, be aware and be swift to defend.

  3. Carol

    Your dad is lucky to have you watching over him, Drew. Keep fighting the good fight!

  4. jennibelle

    I appreciate what you are doing. Divy up the mail so all us sibs can help in the cause. I worked in a wholesale environment where the returned envelope came back with toe nail clippings! Nice one! Love J.

  5. Cyndibus

    Toenail clippings???? Eeewwww! Gross! but funny.
    This kind of harassment needs to stop!
    Jen’s right – get Oprah on this. She’s tight with Obama!

  6. Thank you for sharing. Our father has the same addiction. We don’t have power of attorney at this point though so are relying on powers of logic and persuasion to try and stop his donating.

    Oprah is a great idea to make people more aware of how vague issues and threats are being used with a sense of urgency to make folks feel like they are important players in this “fight” to preserve the American way of life.

    An envelope I snagged from the mail oday was from the “Friends of President Bush” – “…and now former President Bush needs all the support he can possibly get…Please return your annual appeal of $100 and your Emergency Donation of $200…”

    • jdrewscott

      Best wishes to you in your struggles to take care of your father’s finances. It’s amazing how that manufactured sense of urgency has more sway than the people standing right in front of your face … it’s like the Pied Piper has a hold of them.

      Does your father, like mine, also fall victim to the Sweepstakes People? “You are guaranteed a share of $1,000,000 and big honking TV! Just send us $20 to process your winnings…” Oooh, he just can’t resist that siren call no matter how many times I tell him, “That’s a scam, Dad.” He can’t fathom that anyone would be so false!

      Kathy, if you or I can get Oprah to pay attention to this issue, more power to us! Good luck to you and your family.

  7. Pingback: Art of the con II: A second round with my father’s postal oppressors « The Retort

  8. David Boulter

    Mr. Scott,
    Don’t know if you still get these messages after a couple of years, but if you do, hear goes. My 82 year old mother is in the same boat. I am her power of attorney and she is now in an AFC. In the mean time I am averaging 100pcs of her mail/week even after a year. Most I trash unless there’s a stamped return envelope. I save the greenbacks, the nickles and pennies, and have even deposited several $2 checks written to mom hoping she’d sign them and send extra. I have contacted some of these people direct and have even sent a message to my congressman and the Attorney General of my state. All in all, over a 2 year period of time, I’d say that mom wrote about 10k in checks for these idiots. She only remembers helping “Our Boys over seas.”
    A friend came up with a great idea for the postage paid return envelopes. Wrap up a brick in brown paper and tape the envelope to the package. The post office will deliver it and the postage has to be paid on the other end.
    In retrospect, I’d sure like to know how to get someone in our corner with some sense to stop these people. It’s really ridiculous.
    Thanks for your blog.

    • Sylvia Hess

      I noticed you wrote recently. I have just discovered this blog but have been dealing with the same issue with my 97 year old Dad for several years. He also sends money to them regularly. He has started letting me
      open the mail and take out the greenbacks, dimes, nickels and stamps and recycle most of it. I have recently been stuffing the envelopes and sending them back. The brick is a good idea, as well. I think knowing we are not alone in this helps some but I do not know of any way to getting the mail to stop. I did write to several on line and ask them to stop but they sent my Dad a notice saying that his membership was expiring and didn’t he want to continue. Luckily, my Dad is now only able to read one or two pieces a day now (of the 20 to 30 he gets) since he falls asleep so easily. Good luck and let us know if you find a clear resource to fight this abuse of the elderly. Sylvia

  9. Beth Cowles

    Our family is also trying to stop these abusive mailings. Our Father has demetia and can’t decide if it’s a bill or a worthwile organization. While i have no hope of stopping these groups, I can ask that stiffer regulations be imposed to protect the elderly people targeted. I am also requesting refunds through our family attorney. This practice is sick, and does not fit the image of the rightious, conservative values these groups say they espouse.
    I can only hope that parents of the parasitic little wonk wannabes working for these groups will also become “valued donors”

  10. JT

    Add me to the roster of those fighting this. My 89 year old father gets 20+ daily pieces of direct mail on average. Most are from right wing fake outrage units, with the others being fake sweepstakes come-ons. Both have gotten big chunks of his money. My sister tried to screen the junk mail out once, but he got irate. The majority of these things run via a single company in Fredericksburg, VA called Response Dynamics. For a hefty fee they will sell any right wing group one of 20-30 huge mailing lists of prior donors to a particular type of appeal (Evangelical, Anti-Immigration, Impeachment fans, Anti-abortion, Abolish the Fed, etc, etc…) They also will design and print the mailers too.

    One of the most frustrating aspects is that they can legally claim anything in the mailers (” Senate Traitor Harry Reid is planning secret legislation to cede Arizona back to Mexico!!”) and it is protected speech. The only thing they cannot do is promise a specific remedy that will result from the money you send (such as saying they will hire 40 lobbyists to defeat the measure) because the failure to do so could be prosecuted as Fraud.

    Instead, they put all the energy into the phony scare then button it will a generic, ‘Won’t you please write a check for $100 or more today to stop tragedy this from happening!’

    Every year they scam hundreds of millions from primarily elderly confused marks. Ugh…

  11. Gayle Kesinger

    I help a 96 year old very sharp mentally but very Conservative. I am at a loss to help her understand about these mailings. She knows that I do not believe all the trash she gets but she gets sucked into the hyperbole. Any advice? I have copied the list above to be on the watch for. Where can I look for info to persuade her?

  12. John Slayton

    Your comment about mailings from both sides of the political aisle is, I think, correct. My mother (age 91) has been inundated with conservative group mailers for years, but now I notice (with unconcealed amusement) that some on the other side of the political spectrum have apparently been conned into buying the wrong lists.

    The picture of your table is very familiar. (I’ll see your table and raise you two sofas, a bed, and a chair or two. That’s what happens when Mom goes to Rehab and her mail gets on hold for a few days.) I have put together a list of about three hundred groups that are mailing to her. I am using both the Direct Mailers site and Catalogchoice to try to whittle things down so Mom can quit worrying about the problems of the world.

    What brings me here at the moment? I’m trying to get an e-mail address for Americans Against UN Control. Consider me,

    Ticked off in Azusa

  13. Cate Eranthe

    Wow! I was looking for some remedy to this problem when I came across your blog. The White House Watch is still at it. They claim there is a secret petition to impeach Obama and they need help (money) to accomplish this goal which will save social security and medicare.

    My elderly relative is not listening when I tell her there is no such secret process and I don’t believe that Obama has taken millions so the country is doomed if she doesn’t help out. When I suggest donating to the local food bank so people will actually be helped she blanks out.

    She is spending hours a day on her paperwork and answering the pleas for help.

    Has anyone succeeded in getting regulatory assistance? Do you know if the U.S. Attorney or local DA can prosecute?

    How is this not mail fraud?

    Seems like something should be done about these parasites bleeding our loved ones.

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