By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – They didn’t sneak in to burglarize her home while she was away, or hack into her bank accounts through the internet, but someone managed to bilk an 81-year-old Chehalis woman out of thousands of dollars.
Twice, in less than two months.
In December, she lost about $23,000, after receiving a phone call telling her she was the winner of a $2.5 million lottery and a new car. She was told she needed to pay for taxes and the vehicle registration and sent money to individuals in other states.
When Chehalis police learned of the theft, they weren’t optimistic about recovering any of it.
The scam, using old fashioned technology like a telephone and the U.S. mail worked out well for the unknown thieves, but very bad for the elderly victim.
On Friday, an officer was called to the same woman’s home again, and learned she was tricked out of another nearly $15,000.
It was clearly the same people, according to Officer Steve Nikander. At first she said no, but they convinced her they could get her money back, Nikander said.
“All she had to do is send more money, that she did win the car and the lottery,” he said. “The exact same thing, two months in a row, and she believed them.”
“It’s horrible, it’s sad,” he said.
Nikander said the victim lives with her grown daughter, who works and goes to school.
“She’s elderly, she’s alone a lot,” he said. “I think she’s just a very trusting lady.”
Some of the details are unclear, as she was embarrassed, and not very forthcoming because of that, he said.
She apparently increased the limit on her credit cards and got cash advances.
The first time, she sent money orders, but her daughter had seen one and asked about it, Nikander said.
So this time, they told her to buy a greeting card and tuck the cash inside, he said. She did.
She mailed money to addresses in California, Ohio and Massachusetts, he said.
He speculated how someone might use fake identification to rent a private mailbox for a month, and once their scam is finished, just walk away.
Solvability with such schemes is difficult at best, Chehalis Police Department detective Sgt. Gary Wilson said.
Detectives would need to confirm the identify of the thief before sending a police agency in another state to try to track them down, he said. These are the kind people who don’t use their real names, according to Wilson.
The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office has had at least two similar thefts just this month. One was someone pretending to be a grandson who needed emergency money, and the other was someone telling an 83-year-old Winlock woman she had won a new vehicle.
Nikander sat down with the Chehalis victim and her grown daughter and talked about options, the tough kind of conversation about powers of attorney, maybe counseling, maybe a visit to her doctor, he said.
He took a report for informational purposes, and what can be done beyond that, he didn’t know.
There are literally millions of dollars a day lost in phone scams, he said.
“The best offense is education, to not let it happen in the first place,” he said.
His advice for anyone and everyone with elderly family members is to make sure to school them about a basic fact of life.
“If you have to send money to win, it’s a scam,” he said.