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When Scammers Target People With Developmental Disabilities

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Every day, thousands of people fall prey to scams of all kinds. Many of us are wise enough to see through the charades, but a lot of us don’t. It’s not that we’re “stupid,” ignorant or anything like that. Today’s scammer is getting more adept at their craft and learning new tips, tricks, and techniques all the time to separate you from your hard-earned money.

From the Ponzi and Pyramid schemes to the Nigerian Prince letters to the latest ones circulating the globe, people can find ways to tug at our heartstrings and to prey on the most vulnerable in society in order to unlawfully get what they think they deserve.

This past week, someone tried one of these scams on me.

A while ago I went through a tough breakup and was not ready to get back out there and start dating again. I’d had mixed (mostly poor) results with online dating in the past and I didn’t see why this time would be any different. I’m autistic and have ADHD, depression and social anxiety, so I easily qualify as developmentally disabled.

I moved to Southwest Missouri three years ago, mainly to avoid the sensory overload of Southern California. Early last week, I was talking to one of my old ice hockey teammates who kept hounding me (to the tune of three phone calls and numerous texts in a single day) to get back on the horse and put up an online dating profile.

I finally gave in and put up the most half-ass profile you would ever find online. I would be surprised if the whole process took me five minutes and I told my buddy that I would put it up, but that was all I would do. I wasn’t looking at anyone’s profile and I wasn’t searching for anyone.

The next day I received a message from Madison (not her real name in order to protect the guilty). Madison was blond, 33, hot, as in way too hot for me, lived in Michigan (as opposed to Missouri) and she said this:

“Hi. My name is Madison. I saw your profile and really think I could fall in love with you. I would be willing to move to Missouri to be with you and if you send me your phone number, I’ll text you a picture of my boobs. Things have been tough because of COVID-19 and I would really appreciate it if you could send me $1,400. I look forward to your number and to talking about how you will get me the money. Thanks, baby.”

Uh… Yeah.

First off, let me be clear that Madison had no clue that I was developmentally disabled. She was just out to straight out scam any guy she could. While it’s true that from her pictures I did imagine her boobs to be quite spectacular, I declined to send her my phone number. I also declined to send her the money.

What I did do was immediately delete her message and block her from contacting me again, but not until I had copied her pictures onto my computer so I could do a Google images search. Turns out that she was pretending to be a retired porn star who is happily married with four kids and living in Arizona.

So why am I telling you this story? Because this is just one type of scam people with developmental disabilities may fall for on a regular basis. A pretty girl (or a hot guy) comes along, bats their eyes, shows some cleavage and gets the person hooked, and next thing you know the bank account is empty and they’re left heartbroken, having no clue what just happened to them.

I have a friend with an autistic brother in his 40s who is in the National Guard and spent a couple of years overseas. When it came close to the time for him to come home, he met a woman online and fell in love. It was the first time he had fallen in love and his parents were excited for him. My friend? Not so much.

She pushed the family to do a background check, but no one would. He returned home, they got married and less than 24 hours after saying, “I do,” she cleaned out the bank account that she insisted she be added onto to the tune of $50,000. It turned out that she was on parole in Texas and had been married eight times before, preying on people who had money and simply wanted to be loved and have someone in their life.

It doesn’t stop with romance scams; the top financial scams can also involve identity theft and are often perpetrated by those we put in charge of our finances — our family members and loved ones. Those are the most heinous to me, as these are the people we trust with our livelihood, and they use our trust and our lack of money, which is often just above the poverty level, for their personal gain.

Shame on you.

Others call or send emails pretending to be from Medicare, the IRS or Social Security. Most often these are just “courtesy calls” to update information in their system (not the real system) including social security number, date of birth, and even bank account numbers. Those with a developmental disability sometimes tend to trust people who call saying they represent these organizations, because these are the same groups we depend on for support, our livelihood and our health care. If the information isn’t up to date, they could be losing out on valuable benefits. Or so they think.

So, what can we do to try and avoid becoming victim to one of these scams?

Be skeptical of anyone who calls or emails. Get a number to reach them at and then verify it with the organization. If they say they are with the IRS, call the main IRS number and ask if that is a legitimate IRS phone number.

Avoid providing any type of personal information to anyone without first consulting someone you trust. There’s nothing wrong with having someone watching your back and looking out for your well-being. Those who genuinely love us and have our best interests in mind will go above and beyond to keep us safe.

Check your accounts often to know how much you should have in them. It’s harder for someone to take your money if you’re on top of it. And if they can get at it, the more often you check, the quicker you can notify the authorities of the fraud.

Report any suspicious activity to your family, trusted service providers, law enforcement, or other agencies as soon as you suspect something is up. The sooner they can get on it, the sooner they can stop it from happening to you and to others.

We’ve all had moments where we’ve been taken advantage of, whether disabled or not and it’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

Getty image by Tatyana Antusenok.

Originally published: August 16, 2020
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