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by Abigail Van Buren

Mom Wants Grandpa at Arm's Length to Come a Little Closer

DEAR ABBY: My mom is divorced. She lives alone in an isolated area and has been diagnosed with severe depression. About a year ago, while she was staying with my sister "Susie," my sister looked through Mom's online accounts and discovered that Mom's fiance is a prisoner. She also saw that Mom has been using a service to send large amounts of money to his prison account.

Susie has continued to log onto Mom's account. She tracks the amount of money she's sending this prisoner and reads the letters he sends to her. The content of some of them is scary. He insists Mom keep their relationship a secret, that she meet him upon his release from prison and marry him immediately.

It's apparent that I have two problems -- one, that Susie is tracking Mom's private dealings. The other, that my mother is sending money she can't afford to a prisoner with a history of fraud and domestic abuse. What should I do? -- DESPERATE FOR ANSWERS

DEAR DESPERATE: Contact the warden of the prison, explain what has been going on and express your concerns, which are valid. It is entirely possible that your mother isn't the only lonely and vulnerable woman this prisoner has been extorting money from.

I have heard in the past from prison guards who have warned me that this is often a scam, and one that is quite common. In fact, the prisoners sometimes collaborate with one another in writing these communications to make them more effective.