Hundreds of Western Union receipts were among the few possessions Lisa’s father had left in 2009.
After being promised up to $5.5 million in an online scam, her 80-year-old father lost his home and more than $300,000 between 2005 and 2010.
Lisa – who didn’t want her last name used due to safety concerns – told her story Thursday during a news briefing at the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office in the hope of preventing other families from experiencing similar situations, she said.
“It’s affected our family, it’s been really difficult and it’s put a strain on our relationships,” she said. “But hopefully we can reach other people and this won’t affect someone as significantly as it has my dad.”
District Attorney Marc Bennett has placed a focus on consumer crimes such as these in recent years, and for good reason, he said.
“This is offensive that someone would do this to someone with advancing years, someone with a military history who was a self-sufficient businessman,” Bennett said. “To me this is as bad a crime as any.”
Stephen Benson, a clinical psychologist in Wichita, said in a written statement that elderly people who are physically and financially independent are more likely to experience financial abuse. Those with cognitive impairments are at an exponentially higher risk, he said in the statement.
‘I dismissed it’
Lisa said she first became aware of the scam in late 2005, when she went to visit her father at his New Mexico home. His wife had recently died, and Lisa said she wanted to help him through that difficult time.
He had an e-mail to show her, but she was told “not to tell anybody about it.” Scammers were requesting $1,200 in wire transfers so that her father could receive up to $5.5 million.
“I dismissed it,” Lisa said. “I didn’t think this was something he would really feel was legitimate.
“I kept in touch with my dad, but I didn’t realize the e-mails were constantly coming.”
In 2009, Lisa learned her father was losing his house because he could not afford the mortgage payments anymore.
“He had a successful military career, and he was a successful businessman,” Lisa said. “He was confident and very charismatic; if you met him today, you would think that this was a man that would not fall into such a scam.”
She moved her father back to Wichita and, after examining billing records, found that he had sent more than $300,000 from 2005 to 2010 to Nigerian scammers.
Her father was receiving not only e-mails, but calls and texts multiple times a week from Nigerian numbers, sometimes using a United Kingdom-based relay service, said Sharon Warner, chief attorney in the Consumer Protection Division of the District Attorney’s Office.
In 2010, the scammers increased the alleged inheritance he would receive, if only he would send multiple payments of $12,800 in return, Lisa said.
‘He has nothing’
To avert any further monies from being sent overseas, Lisa changed her father’s cellphone number, deactivated his e-mail accounts and started managing his finances, giving him a monthly allowance. That’s when her father began taking out payday loans to send to the scammers.
“All his military retirement and Social Security checks are going to this,” she said. “His financial security has been depleted. He has nothing at this point.”
She said she thinks scammers were able to keep him engaged by sending official-looking “sealed” documents, which Bennett said can be convincing.
“People of a certain generation … come from a time when you can get things like that in the mail,” Bennett said. “Of course it’s official – it’s got a seal on it.”
Rachael Pirner, an attorney with Triplett, Woolf, & Garretson, said there are different ways to prevent scammers from robbing older relatives. If you have determined the affected individual is impaired, Pirner said the best thing to do is file a police report, and then invoke the jurisdiction of the court.
“Ask that a guardian and conservator be appointed so this individual doesn’t spend him or herself into poverty,” Pirner said.
If the individual is not impaired mentally, Pirner said it is best to adopt a proactive solution and designate people to be a guardian or conservator in case an issue develops.
Bennett said when money is being transferred to overseas accounts, getting it back is nearly impossible.
“Our subpoena power only extends so far,” Bennett said. “When it goes off to a jurisdiction like Nigeria, it’s just an impossibility. You’re chasing a vapor.”
He said the best way to get restitution “is not to lose it in the first place.”
“If I can’t do something about it personally because the money is simply gone, know that this office will do everything we can to put you in touch with the right people,” Bennett said. “This is a priority for the office.”
To report a scam
To contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office, call 316-660-3600.