RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- With their elderly parents seated across the octagonal oak table, Donna and Jim Parker were back in the kitchen they knew so well.

It was Christmastime, but this was no holiday gathering. The parents were in deep trouble, and this was an intervention.

For the past year, Charles and Miriam Parker, both 81, had been in the thrall of an international sweepstakes scam. The retired educators, with a half-dozen college degrees between them, had lost tens of thousands of dollars.

But money wasn't just leaving the Parker house. Strangely, large sums now were coming in, too.

Their four children were worried, but so far had been powerless to open their parents' eyes. If they wouldn't listen to their kids, Donna thought, maybe they'd listen to people with badges.

And so, joining them at the family table that late-December day in 2005 were Special Agent Joan Fleming of the FBI and David Evers, an investigator from the North Carolina attorney general's telemarketing fraud unit.

The officers explained they were there to ask for the Parkers' help in catching these predators. With their permission, Evers installed a "mooch line" on the kitchen phone so they could capture incoming calls.

But in the coming months and years, things would get worse for the Parker family.

Older Americans lose $2.9 billion a year to fraud, according to a study conducted last year by the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech. Most victims are between 80 and 89, and most are women.

"Elder financial abuse is becoming the crime of the 21st century," Denise Voigt Crawford, past president of the North American Securities Administrators Association, said when the report was released.

No one can say exactly how the trouble began in the Parkers' case. The couple ended up on what people in the industry call the "sucker list."

And once they were marked, the scammers proceeded to "reload" them.

Through a series of calls, Howard Clark -- a man with a warm voice who called her "dear" and "sweetheart" -- had learned enough personal information about Miriam to convince her he the was the family's ticket to riches.

So on Dec. 8, 2004, Miriam Parker -- then 80 -- drove herself to the Walmart down the road to send a MoneyGram to Montreal, Quebec.Other wires followed.

On Jan. 12, 2005, she sent a Federal Express package to a "Mr. Stewart" on Papineau Street in Montreal. Inside, as instructed, was a magazine with $12,550 in cash sandwiched between its pages.

The Parkers quickly had become what authorities refer to as "super victims."

By May 2005, the Parkers had blown through their savings. They had tapped into their home equity line and maxed out several credit cards. Willing as they still were, the Parkers were running out of things to give.

On May 5, 2005, a package from Bloomingdale, N.J., containing $8,275 in cash arrived at the Parkers' home. In just more than one week, Miriam Parker would receive and repackage $60,000 for delivery.

If someone sent her a check, she was to convert it to cash and send that along, Howard said -- and she wasn't to tell her children about their dealings.

But the kids already had become alarmed by changes in their mother's behavior.

When the kids finally persuaded their mother to get a credit report, the news was jaw-dropping. Their thrifty parents were $200,000 in debt.

Using "trap and trace" technology, the FBI determined the pitch calls were coming from Montreal, and Mounties soon had a real name for "Howard Clark" -- he was Clayton Atkinson. Atkinson had 13 convictions for assault, theft and weapons possession stretching back to 1994.

When Atkinson appeared for sentencing at U.S. District Court in Raleigh on March 15, Miriam and Donna Parker were there. Charles Parker had died just a month earlier.

Miriam Parker had imagined Howard as much older, perhaps with gray hair. Standing before them was a 33-year-old man, his dark hair cropped close.

When the time came for victim impact statements, Donna Parker rose. She said it had taken two years to pay off the credit card debt. She told of having to take her parents to court, and of the lingering resentment it had caused.

"To this day," she said, still referring to her father in the present tense, "they are convinced that their family deprived them of their right to prizes and lottery winnings."