WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Scammers tend not to discriminate, but more times than not, the elderly are especially susceptible, which is what happened to one 88-year-old Walton County woman, who along with her daughter doesn't want to be identified.
"Everyone thinks it's not going to happen to them. And I thought, my mom is so smart, so lucky, all this stuff, oh it's never going to happen to us. The fact is it does," said the victim's daughter. "We talked to her before about scams and it's not as if this wasn't discussed. My sister-in-law printed out information off the internet and handed it to her that says do not do this and you know no matter what you just have to be vigilant. And I hate it because I feel like forever more she is a target."
Although they would like to remain anonymous, they said they feel it's necessary to share their experience.
"People called my mother and convinced her that by saying they were Homeland Security [and] you've won a prize. [They] convinced her she needed to pay taxes for a contest she never entered," she said.
The daughter said she only began to notice when her mother started to show an increased interest in her bank statements.
"She made some comments about her credit card and her bank statement. She was more worried about money than usual. And for some reason, I came in and we looked at her credit card statements and it showed there were cash withdrawals. I don' t know how to take cash from my credit card. I actually didn't realize I could. My 88-year-old mother has no way of knowing how to do this," she said.
The scammers preyed on whatever weakness the scammers could find.
"She's always told me the truth. We've always talked through whatever issues are there, and she would tell me the truth. So with this, she hides things from me and she lied to me. And that was the most upsetting thing," she explained. "These criminals convinced her not to tell anybody. They even knew when my siblings would come and visit her and wouldn't call during that period. I mean it became like an addiction."
"I speak to her every day. My siblings talk to her regularly. Her friends call her. So she's not an elderly person who's been ignored and so its really hard that you feel you cannot protect them," the daughter added.
Now the victim's family is working to pick up the pieces and put safeguards in place so hopefully it won't happen again.
"You don't know what to do. How do you keep them from getting to her," she asked herself. "Its almost like you need to have that conversation years and years before. And who thought you'd have to plan this out where you agree maybe at a certain point a child goes on to their accounts, because even if you plan it well, you have trust. A power of attorney does not work for a trust and a successor trustee is not a trustee. So these are things that are really detailed and you know and some people don't have trust. But you need to have, make a plan and then make it so far ahead... it seems silly."
But it can be difficult when talking about taking away part of someone's independence.
"She's a little angry because her wings are clipped a little bit," she said. "She still wants to be able to do what she wants, but I'm not going to let her give money to a criminal."
The victim's daughter said her best approach was to just be blunt with her mother.
"It doesn't hurt to have that conversation and talk about it. It never hurts having you on [accounts] because I couldn't even change her phone not being on her phone. Everything had to go through her. Luckily she was compliant. As we did things and changed things before, she was agreeable to them. But there comes a time when they may not be agreeable and that's really hard," said the daughter.
"We've tried to just talk about it. Not make it a stigma. It happened. It's done," she explained. "But its a very hard conversation to have. I just try to impress upon her the only thing I'm trying to do is protect her."
As they move forward, the family said identifying areas of vulnerability is their top priority.
"We've always had problems with her phone, of people calling and calling and really weird calls. And we've tried to get call blocking and it's really hard because, for someone who's moved away from most of her friends, her phone is really her way that she talks to her loved ones and talks to her good friends and her phone has become her enemy," she added.
Law enforcement officials said if you believe you've been scammed, call your local police department as soon as possible.