Trusting Yourself and Trusting Others
By Christina Baldwin, ISR Board member
While visiting an elder friend Doris, I watched her handle a phone call that made me nervous. I could overhear a voice through the receiver telling her this was the Social Security office and there was some question about her account. Could she verify her number and birthdate? I wanted to see what she’d do next and was poised to intervene.
She listened politely, then said, “I don’t think this is a real call. I’m not giving you my information.” The voice grew insistent and urgent, “I’m going to hang up now,” she responded, and did.
She got us another cup of tea and we continued our visit. “Congratulations,” I told her. “You made a good choice.”
“I think so,” she said, “but it gets harder and harder to know who to trust, or how to trust, in a world where I don’t know the people who present themselves as trying to help me, and I can’t see people’s faces.”
The size of Whidbey, the number of older people who live here, and the number of people who have families far away, make our communities more susceptible to fraud. To address the concept of “asking for what you need and offering what you can” in our articles this year, it’s important to address the increased need for caution and discernment in the world beyond familiarity and relationship. Everyone is now vulnerable to attempts to trick us by phone, email, social media, and mail.
The further we are from familiar and trusted relationships, the more discerning and careful we need to be. Most fraud occurs in an environment set up to seem ordinary—but it isn’t quite ordinary.
- The request is unusual: whatever organization the caller says they are representing does not usually contact you in this manner.
- The person does not offer their credentials in a realistic way—and you have the right to ask them, “May I have your full name, your return phone number, and an independent way of checking your credentials before sharing any of my information?” If you get any weird response, hang up. And if you do collect this data, tell them, “Thank you, I’ll call you back.” Hang up and take your time to think things through, double check, ask a trusted family member, law enforcement, etc. “Do you think this is legitimate? How do you think I should respond?”
- The call or email is coming from a source you don’t usually use: i.e. Fed Ex, when you haven’t shipped anything, or a bank where you don’t have an account.
- Do not engage the internet environment beyond your comfort level. When my mother-in-law asked if she should learn the computer we discouraged her because she had not trained herself with years of practice to maneuver this complex environment of unfiltered information. When my father asked if he should get on Facebook we discouraged him because it would expose him to advertising and fake relationships he’d never tried to handle before.
Where we can rest is back at the basics: being in relationships of acquaintance, friendship, and family that we trust.
My friend who hung up the phone is eighty-five. She comes from a time and place where she knew the milkman, the postman, the grocer, the bank teller, and other service providers. Exchanges of asking and offering were conducted in a field of familiarity and relationship. These types of face-to-face connections still flourish on Whidbey and are part of what we appreciate about island life: we’re in this together. It’s great to have the check-out person wonder where we’ve been if we haven’t gotten groceries in a couple of weeks. It’s reassuring to have the bank clerk call and inquire if something doesn’t look right in our checking account.
Because valuables, medicine, and vulnerable information rest on the surface, we need to trust anyone who walks through our homes: friends, family, neighbors, care-givers, cleaners, repair persons and others. Trust is built through relationship and by signaling each other our trustworthiness.
To develop trust, remember three things:
- Interact locally and face-to-face as much as possible.
- Choose a person to contact when you have concerns, and get to know each other.
- Talk about trust: what it means in different relationships and situations.
“Doris, did you mean to leave your rings by the sink?” I ask my friend when I come out of the guest bathroom.
“Why no, and I would have panicked when I realized I didn’t have them on. Thank you.”
“We all do that,” I reassure her. “Just call me, and I’ll help you find whatever’s gone missing.”
“Do you know where your glasses are right now?” she asked me with a smile.
“No, I actually don’t!” I felt anxiety rising. Doris retrieved them—off my head—where I’d pushed them back as a hairband.
We get by with a little help from our friends, and that’s life on Whidbey.