Local woman scammed out of more than $10K as schemes surge during the pandemic

A local grandmother recently lost tens of thousands of dollars in a scam that took advantage of...
A local grandmother recently lost tens of thousands of dollars in a scam that took advantage of her kindness and her faith in God.(KMOV)
Published: Feb. 10, 2022 at 4:06 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - A local grandmother recently lost tens of thousands of dollars in a scam that took advantage of her kindness and her faith in God.

But while so many scams nowadays happen online, this bait and switch happened right in front of her. “I just can’t believe I let it happen to me,” said one local woman, who News 4 is calling E.B.

E.B. says she’s concerned to speak out, after falling victim to a scam. “I, for whatever reason, thought this guy was legit,” she said.

Last Friday, she was shopping at the Walgreens on Lucas and Hunt and Natural Bridge in north St. Louis County when a man approached her.

“He said ‘excuse me ma’am, I am from Africa and I am trying to find this particular church,’” E.B. said.

Once outside the store, he started laying out the scheme.

“‘I had a grandfather who was a doctor, killed in a car accident and he left a will with $200,000,’” E.B. said the man told her. “His instructions were to find two organizations that are in need of money that we could give this to, to help them. The church would get $90,000 and whoever helps us do this would get $10,000,” she said.

The man showed her some cash and even a letter appearing to back up the claims. Laid-off during COVID, and a church-going woman, she thought it might be a God-send.

“I was thinking the church can use it and a lot of people I know can use $10,000,” she said.

Another man even joined in, even claiming to be a church deacon. “I believe they were working together,” said E.B.

E.B. says she was somehow convinced, but the man said she needed to prove she wouldn’t just take the money and run, so she drove to two banks. She went to the Simmons near the Walgreens and a Together Credit Union in Florissant and withdrew cash from two of her accounts totaling $10,258.

She says the men gave her a bundle wrapped in handkerchiefs, still keeping up their rouse.

“‘Let’s pray over this.’ Hands on top of hands, on top of hands, we pray over it,” she said.

Only later after they left did she unwrap it to find no money, just pieces of paper.

“I just can’t believe I let it happen to me,” E.B. said.

“This is a time of turmoil and upheaval for a lot of people in their lives and scammers count on that because that’s when they are most effective,” said Rebecca Phoenix of the Better Business Bureau.

Phoenix says scammers are taking advantage of the pandemic, though many operate online.

“It’s really interesting to see scams being perpetrated online actually being done in person and it’s a little unnerving,” she said.

What happened to E.B. is almost like a twist on the Nigerian prince email scam many have heard of. And it’s true. Online scams continue to be incredibly pervasive. Just this week, the FBI warned of a rising trend of online romance scams in which victims were being told to send money to trade or invest in cryptocurrency.

From January to July of this year, they received over 1,800 complaints for that type scam alone, with victims losing more than $133 million dollars.

“It’s surprising we are seeing that, but it seems to be a crime of opportunity,” Phoenix said.

Phoenix says there are red flags to look out for, ones E.B. might have spotted. The scammer refused to let her make any calls, told her to get cash quick and not to tell the tellers what happened and even to avoid cameras.

E.B. says the police haven’t done much. And despite our repeated attempts, Walgreens never responded to our inquiries to receive surveillance video of the man meeting E.B. in the store.

“We may not get the money but at least get their faces out there to let people know this is happening,” E.B. said. She says she just wants to warn others, saying ultimately she hopes God himself takes care of the scammers. “Whatever is due them, I hope they get it, I really and truly do.”

Things to look out for:

• Someone soliciting you with a sense of urgency.

• The person asking for cash, wire transfers or gift cards.

• Someone trying to leverage your connections to family members of the community.