An 84-year-old woman has lost at least $50,000 after she was targeted by phone scammers over several years, police said.
Westminster Police Depart Officer Matt Edinger recently responded to a bank in Huntington Beach after the elderly woman was trying to send money to a man who claimed he was in Mexico.
The bank, suspecting fraud, called the police.
When Edinger investigated, he learned the former Long Beach school teacher was victim of a scam in which a caller pretends to be a government agent to extort money.
In this case, the elderly woman had been trying to sell a timeshare she owns in Mexico. A man posing as an investigator called the woman several times saying she needed to be investigated to ensure she was not committing fraud or laundering money before selling the timeshare.
And, the man on the phone told her, she would need to pay a fee to have the investigation completed.
On the most recent call, the man asked for $1,500. When the bank banned wire transfers on her account as a protection measure, the woman borrowed against her credit card to make the payment, Edinger said.
The woman told Edinger that she had plans to go visit her son, who is living in China, and needed the money before she could go.
“She honestly believed that if she made this payment, he would send her the money,” Edinger said.
As he investigated, Edinger found this woman had been targeted at least 10 times since 2014.
“(Adult Protective Services) has several open cases on her, and most of them were reported by the bank,” he said.
Three different banks put holds on the woman’s account in an effort to stop her from transferring money, but eventually she started borrowing from her credit cards.
She told Edinger she anticipates she has paid more than $200,000 to the scammers over the years. Police have $50,000 shown on bank records.
“This case is the worst I have ever seen in terms of dollar amount and how long it’s been going on,” he said. “It’s terrible.”
“Once these guys find someone who is willing to pay, they will continue to pass their information around” Edinger said. “When they’re done, they move on to someone else.”
The best way to try and stop fraud is to educate residents, police said.
Westminster PD fraud investigator, Detective Brian Perez, said they have launched a community education program to inform residents — especially senior citizens — on what to look out for and how to avoid becoming a victim of fraud.
“Getting victims their money back is very difficult,” Perez said. “I found that if we work on prevention measures, that is going to pay in dividends.”
This article was provided by the Behind The Badge, a website devoted to coverage of law enforcement news, practices and features in cooperation with the Orange County Tribune. For more, go to: http://www.behindthebadgeoc.com .