This is one of the harder posts to share with the world, but I think what I have to say on this issue is important. If to no one else, then to me.
Vitauts has always liked games of chance. From an early age, I watched him play poker, solo, solitaire and many other games for hours on end.
When you are little and you see your parents doing something “wrong” you don’t really know it’s wrong, right? I mean, how many kids grow up with parents who are doing drugs or other illicit activities thinking that it is just normal?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not a saint, and I don’t see anything wrong with a little gambling here and there, but I have seen how what began as a little fun on a Friday night can turn into a debilitating habit. Luckily, dad has never really had enough money to really destroy himself, but he will spend every dime he has each month, and most of it goes to the casinos of Council Bluffs, the Nebraska Lottery, or these direct mail fraud letters that the movie Nebraska so prominently brought to bear.
When I saw that Alexander Payne movie in the theater, I didn’t realize that it was about my father until he moved in with me, and then I saw how these mailings really work. When we would all visit mom and dad in Lincoln, we would see these envelopes of “charities” or “contests” asking for money. Mom, apparently, sent in some of these.
When I was little, I fondly remember her showing us the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes. She would always buy magazines from them and joke that they would just throw your entry away if you didn’t. We saw commercials with them handing big checks to random strangers, and we would fantasize about what we would do if the prize van came to our house.
Just now, when I put in the link to the PCH Sweepstakes, I realized that the first hit on Google was a false link, some dummy site set up to collect information from unwary users. This just goes to my point about how much fraud is out there, and no one is doing anything about it.
The once-a-year magazine scam somehow perverted itself to mom and dad sending ten dollars here and there to various contests. These contests work like this. They send unsuspecting people a letter saying, “You have won!” with instructions about how to “Claim your prize.” Most of the time, the first letter is free, or they will charge a minimal “processing fee” or charge for “postage.” If you bite, then they send you a second letter saying that you’ve made it to “the next step!” Then they ask for $10 to “process” this entry, and this continues as they milk the person dry. They keep sucking on them like a tick or leech, just getting fatter and fatter off these poor, misguided fools.
And not only do they send these out, but they share the names of the hapless suckers, or these are all owned by the same company somewhere out there. Dad has literally been getting at least a dozen letters a day from all these different companies some disguised as charities, but most are contests asking for money.
In his quest for a gambling fix, or, as he claims, to honor his dearly departed wife, he continues to send in a few of these mailings each day. Sometimes I see them going out in the mail, and it makes me sad. Most of the time, he sneaks them to the post office, so I won’t even know.
All of my siblings and I have all had serious confrontations with him about these fraudulent letters, but still he persists. I throw them away when I see them, and I tell him to do the same, but he keeps sending them in. How much money has he squandered on these fake contests over the past twenty years?
The worst part is that he will joke about “winning big money!” Sometimes he has a specific amount in mind like $10,000. I ask him, “What would you do with this money?” but he doesn’t really have an answer. The money is completely meaningless to him. Even if he won a million dollars, what would he do with it?
The thought of winning has become this nebulous fantasy that he has stuck in his mind, and it is almost all consuming. I compare it to Gollum’s and Bilbo’s obsession with “my precious” in The Lord of the Rings series. And trying to get him to see this obsession is an exercise in frustrating futility. I feel completely helpless watching him throw away not only his money, but more important his dignity day in and day out.
Shouldn’t it be some kind of crime to take advantage of people? We know that dad’s mind isn’t working as well as it used to. He doesn’t remember things very well, and he really doesn’t know what he’s doing sometimes. I have tried to contact the post office and even our state senators asking about what we can do to stop this, and there doesn’t seem to be any solution. Apparently the law only helps those who can already help themselves.
Update, I got the mail today. 23 mailings. 23 junk mails in one day. Each and every day. Think about that! I am sending them all a cease and desist letter. Hopefully, I can intercept more mail. I found this website that may help: http://seniornet.org/blog/how-to-stop-junk-mail-and-prevent-mail-fraud/
I went through all of the letters, opened them, and replied with a strongly stated letter to leave Vitauts alone. Most of them don’t even have prepaid postage. Monsters! Look at this pile of evil! At first, I kind of snickered at the way these are set up. About 1/2 of them are “charities” that ask for a donation in return for some prize. Sometimes the prize is an even number, but sometimes it is really odd. The other letters (not sure which are more evil) are “sweepstakes” asking for processing fees. One one hand, the charities only ask for a donation. It’s not required, but they mask this crap in some fake charity… so that’s pretty horrible. But the Sweepstakes people ask for a higher set amount, and they have some really Orwellian sounding names like “National Fulfillment Advisors.”
I made a spreadsheet to keep track of all of these that I’m responding to. Feel free to send letters to these people! Give them a taste of their medicine. I know they are all owned by the same company, probably a subsidiary of the Koch brothers or Donald Trump. Most are in either some weird suburb of NYC like Babylon or in St. Louis. Most of the “charities” come with little cards proclaiming that the odds against winning are precisely 1,392,000:1. I wonder if that’s some legal number? All the cards are exactly the same size and shape with names like “Kids Wish” and “Little Shelter” which has a picture of a puppy and kitty on it. I tell you, it’s pure manipulation and as evil and sick as capitalism can get.