Extra Protection

When members are at risk of being financially exploited, Thrivent can help.

< Back to magazine home

This article (PDF) | Current issue (PDF) | Archive

By Denise Logeland • Illustration by Alessandro Gottardo

“I don’t answer the phone when it’s numbers I don’t recognize,” says Thrivent member Judy Box. It’s not that she’s screening out sales calls and surveys. Box wants to shut out “Douglas Alfred,” the name used by the man who swindled her out of $57,000, and other scammers like him.

Last year, after Thrivent helped Box recognize and come to terms with her experience, the 69-year-old resident of Spring, Texas, decided she would share her story. She never thought something like this could happen to her. “I feel a little foolish that I did this,” she acknowledges, “but people need to know.”

A scammer’s playbook

Box takes responsibility for her own actions, but she also is quick to recognize that she never thought this could happen to her. She sees in hindsight how loneliness made her vulnerable to swindlers, who look for weaknesses to prey on. Box’s husband, Gary, died in 2007, and though handled with care years have passed, she still felt an emptiness without him.

From the start, she had doubts about Douglas Alfred, the stranger who sent her a friend request on Facebook in October 2017. He lived in London and worked as an “independent contractor.” She had caught his eye, he said.

Their Facebook exchanges turned into longer online chats and phone calls. She asked about his life and wanted pictures. In hindsight, she realizes they were edited to suit his story. When she asked to video chat, there was always a reason why he couldn’t. But he was unflagging in expressing his love for her.

Each time Box voiced her doubts, Alfred was ready to reassure her. He sent copies of his (fake) passport and (fake) driver’s license, going to great lengths to prove that he was who he said he was.

“You don’t want to accept [that it’s not real],” Box says. “When you’re in a situation that you’re lonely, you want to believe that somebody loves you.”

A couple months after their first exchange, Alfred laid the final groundwork for his swindle. He was leaving soon for another country, he told her. He had landed a big contract in the oil industry and would make more than $200,000 for the job. Afterwards, he would fly to the U.S. to meet her, and they would marry. Just one thing, he confided. He might run into a cash flow problem before he got paid. If he needed a loan, would she help him?

Trained to spot red flags

He asked for $20,000 the first time—to cover payroll for his crew and other expenses. Box contacted Alex Linder, her Houston-based Thrivent Financial professional, for help withdrawing money from a retirement account. She wired it to Alfred.

A week or two later, he needed more. Box began calling Thrivent’s main office to make withdrawals. She’d had a friendly working relationship with Linder for a decade. Now, she didn’t want to face his questions. Her change in habits and her series of big withdrawals didn’t go unnoticed.

While Thrivent’s members are often in the best position to identify potential financial exploitation, there may be times when Thrivent becomes aware of situations involving a vulnerable adult or potential financial abuse. “We train our financial professionals and our customer care professionals—anyone who might interact with a member—on how to identify red flags of possible concern,” says Deb Martin, who leads Thrivent’s Vulnerable Adult Office, which helps protect seniors and other vulnerable individuals against exploitation, abuse and neglect. When financial exploitation is involved, signs of someone in trouble can include:

  • Frequent, large withdrawals
  • Calling often to ask the same questions
  • Seeming confused
  • Being coached by someone in the background during a call
  • Avoiding or being vague about the purpose of a withdrawal or money movement from one account to another
“Everything we do circles around concerns for our members and their privacy.”
— Deb Martin, Thrivent's Vulnerable Adults Office

If there is a suspicion of exploitation or a crime, Thrivent has an anti-money laundering and anti-fraud team that will work with law enforcement and conduct required regulatory filing. But usually the issues that Martin’s office sees are “softer” ones, involving older adults who’ve lost physical or cognitive abilities. It puts them at risk, even if there’s no financial abuse currently happening. Solutions might include helping the person connect with supportive services in their community and encouraging designation of a trusted contact person.

Members have a right to confidentiality and to do as they wish with their money, Martin emphasizes. So the process of trying to help or protect them centers on listening to them and learning about their situations, she says.

“Everything we do circles around concerns for our members and their privacy.”

Finally free

Linder was relieved when Box finally agreed to meet with him again after dodging him for a time. He’d been briefed by Martin, and his meeting with Box gave him a chance to share information with her about fraud. That prompted her to open up about what she had been going through.

The money is gone, but Box says she feels “free” nonetheless. Linder is helping her map out a new financial strategy to deal with her losses and her debts. She’s moving ahead. “I haven’t looked back,” she says.

Who is Your Trusted Contact?

Thrivent encourages members to name a “trusted contact person,” a designation that gives no legal power and no access to a member’s confidential financial information. A trusted contact is simply a friend or family member who can respond with helpful information if questions arise about your well-being.

For example, a member who sounds really confused on the phone might be hard of hearing instead, says Thrivent’s Deb Martin. A trusted contact could offer that fact if a Thrivent professional had concerns because the member sounded disoriented.

You can add a trusted contact person to your Thrivent account by talking with your Thrivent professional or calling 1-800-Thrivent.

Are You Worried About Financial Exploitation?

Any member with questions about an interaction that affects their Thrivent accounts can ask for guidance and help. Talk with your Thrivent Financial representative or call 1-800-Thrivent.