I want to thank Sherry for inviting me as a guest blogger. We got to know each other through a manuscript exchange when we were both writing the first books of our mystery series. When our second books came out on the same day, we celebrated with a joint launch party. Now we’re both looking forward to the release of our third books and writing the fourth one in our series.
My Five-Ingredient Mysteries (By Cook or by Crook and Scam Chowder) feature 32-year-old Val, who left a stressful job Manhattan and now lives with her widowed grandfather in a historic town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Val runs a café, tests recipes for her long-planned cookbook, and solves murders, which she, like other sleuths in cozy mysteries, encounters with amazing frequency. In By Cook or by Crook, as she investigates the murder of one of her café patrons, Granddad takes up cooking and pares down her recipes to five ingredients. Each book in the series has five suspects, five clues, and Granddad’s modified five-ingredient recipes.
Around the time I was developing Granddad as a character, I came home from a white-elephant exchange with a pair of folk art dolls. If Sherry saw those dolls at a yard sale, I’m betting she couldn’t resist them. From the moment I sat that couple in my living room, I felt as if Val’s grandfather was watching every move I made. Though younger than the man in the corner of my room, Granddad resembles him—bald on top, hair sticking out from the side, and a mischievous look in his eye. His role in the books grew beyond what I originally intended because he’s a scene stealer and takes over the stories. He functions as Val’s confidant, foil, and sidekick, although he’d argue that she’s his sidekick.
In Scam Chowder Granddad throws a dinner party for people he’s met at the local retirement village. Some younger guests, including a reporter, also come to Granddad’s chowder dinner. He conceals from Val the real reason for the party—to expose one of his guests as a financial scammer targeting retirees. But when the scammer goes face down in the chowder, Granddad becomes the chief suspect because he lured the scammer to the house on false pretenses and served the chowder. So Val and he work together to prove him innocent and figure out which of the other five people at the table could have slipped poison in the scammer’s chowder.
I became interested in fraud against retirees and read up on the crime when my father was targeted by scammers. In discussing the problem with my friends, I discovered that everyone in my generation has stories about attempted, and often successful, scams against older relatives or neighbors. Scams against seniors are rampant, underreported, and under-prosecuted crimes. With Granddad in my cast of characters, I had a perfect setup to explore these crimes.
Retirees aren’t the only people who fall victim to financial scams like bogus investments. Bernie Madoff swindled a lot of people who weren’t retired. But scammers target older people for good reasons. Retirees have nest eggs to invest. They want their money to grow to make sure they have enough to last as long as they live. They also want to pass on the fruits of their labors to their children and grandchildren. The lure of higher return on investments is hard to resist, particularly in the last few years, when interest rates have been low. So older people, like younger ones, fall for a “too good to be true” investment opportunity. However, they aren’t as quick to report swindles.
Once older people realize they’ve been defrauded, they are often unwilling to tell anyone about it. They’re ashamed of themselves for being taken in and afraid they’ll lose control of their money if their relatives find out about the fraud. Even if the victims report the fraud to the police, it’s unlikely they’ll get their money back or that the con artist will be charged with a crime. Financial fraud can look like bad investment advice. You can’t demand restitution and put someone in jail for bad advice. In cases where the fraud is blatant enough for a criminal charge, the con artist counts on older victims being bad witnesses whose memories are hazy. Delays in prosecution also work in the scammer’s favor because everyone’s memory for details fades over time. If you want to know more about financial scams against retirees, visit the FBI web page: https://www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud/seniors
Please share your stories about attempts to defraud retirees. The more we raise awareness about these crimes, the better our chances of stopping them.
Maya (Mary Ann) Corrigan, lives outside Washington, D.C., not far from the Chesapeake Bay area where her Five Ingredient Mysteries are set: By Cook or by Crook, Scam Chowder, and Final Fondue (June 2016). Winner of the New England Readers’ Award and the Daphne du Maurier Award in unpublished Mystery/Suspense, she taught writing, detective fiction, and American literature at Georgetown University and Northern Virginia Community College. She posts trivia about food and mysteries on her website: http://www.mayacorrigan.com.
Readers: Do you know anyone one that has been victim of a scam?