Crime & Courts

Wichita police: Scammers bilk thousands of dollars from elderly couple

A couple in their 80s is out several thousand dollars after scammers convinced them to part with money in exchange for a “jackpot” of more than $20 million, police said Thursday.

An 81-year-old woman called police Wednesday to report a check they had received wasn’t honored by their bank, Lt. James Espinoza said. She said she and her 82-year-old husband had been corresponding since October with a business calling itself American Family Publishers.

The scammers used telephone conversations and official-looking documents to persuade the couple to send several checks totaling more than $9,000 in exchange for a purported $20 million, Espinoza said.

“This wasn’t one of your ‘one phone call trying to get your money’ ” scams, he said.

Robbie Namee, trade practice specialist with the Better Business Bureau, said the case sounds like a classic lottery scam: The caller says the recipient has won a large sum of money, but they need to send a small fee so the money can be released. Or to pay taxes on the prize. Or for some other reason.

“It breaks my heart,” Namee said when she learned how much money the couple had lost.

Scammers hunt for victims, she said, and once they find someone who falls for their pitch, they look for other ways to extract additional money.

“People preying on the elderly is very shameful — very wrong,” Espinoza said.

An investigation into the scam is in its early stages, he said.

The scam is a reminder of an old but valid statement, Espinoza said: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Residents with elderly parents should keep an eye out to make sure they’re not being victimized by scammers, he said.

“Any time you’re contacted regarding a contest you never entered to begin with, it should be a red flag,” Namee said. “If you have to pay a fee to win money, that’s another red flag.”

If you’re being asked to send money out of state or out of the country to someone you don’t know, she said, “check it out.” Chances are, it’s a scam.

If there’s a quick deadline for accepting the money, she said, it’s another red flag.

“I hate seeing seniors getting caught up” in scams like this one, Namee said.

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or sfinger@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @StanFinger.

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