A whizbang in the insurance and financial worlds for decades, a spry retiree in Chicago was the last guy his children imagined they'd see snared in a money scam.
But in a mere month earlier this year the 80-year-old grandfather was conned out of an estimated $25,000.
"It might even be more," his oldest son said.
Once the victim's kids caught on, the scam got scarier.
"These people threatened to kill me on more than one occasion," the son said.
Still, they want their father's story told. To protect their identity, Yahoo News is not naming the elderly victim or his family.
"If it can happen to my dad, it can absolutely happen to anyone else," the son said.
Federal officials agree and are sounding the alarm. A government report released this month described elder financial exploitation as an "epidemic with society wide repercussions." While this type of fraud is woefully underreported and often overlooked, officials estimate that Americans 65 and older are taken for nearly $3 billion a year.
Elder fraud comes in all forms, including the lottery scam pulled on the Chicago widower. A Feb. 20 letter in the style of Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes informed the widower he'd won at least $5 million. To claim his prize, the letter said, he would need to send $3,000 to cover "insurance, shipping and handling for the safe delivery."
He complied, but the fraudsters kept calling back for more. Time and again, he'd go to neighborhood stores and wire money by the hundreds and thousands. In mid-March, one of his children paid a visit and spotted money transfer receipts scattered about.
"My dad became hush-hush and actually tried to hide stuff," the son told Yahoo News. "That was totally out of character for my dad. And he came up with a BS story that my brother did not believe."
His children alerted the Illinois attorney general, Publishers Clearing House and the financial institutions involved. MoneyGram and Western Union blocked the 80-year-old's accounts, but he continued to get calls from strangers in New York and Jamaica. His sons intercepted some of the calls, which turned threatening when the sons refused to put their father on the phone.
"They said they could see us through the window, that they were going to shoot us that afternoon," his son said.
The family and others familiar with the case believe the original fraudsters sold the victim's information on "smurf lists" so that other money launderers could contact him as well. One female caller told the son she was his father's girlfriend. Others knew personal details about the elderly man, like his dog's name.
"Anything to get through to my dad," he said. "They're good, they're organized and they are ruthless."
Chris Irving, assistant vice president of consumer and legal affairs at Publishers Clearing House, says imposters are a thorn in the company's side.