By Agrippina Fadel
Margate couple Doris and Barry Bauman lost $99,000 of their life’s savings in one day after falling victim to an international email scam tracked to Hong Kong.
Their daughter Sonja Bauman started a GoFundMe campaign to help her parents, who are now considering selling their cars and the house they have lived in since the 1980s.
So far, the campaign has raised $360 out of the $20K goal.
“You hear about these stories of people getting scammed online all the time, but you never think it can happen to your family. My parents are great, hard-working people, and they were victimized by criminals. If anyone deserves a little help in this kind of situation, it is them. They lost everything,” said Sonja.
A Tamarac resident and Coconut Creek High School graduate, Sonja grew up in Margate in a little duplex near Southgate and 441, where her parents still reside. She is a part-time caregiver for the elderly and a mom to a seven-year-old with autism.
Barry started a small upholstery supply company 42 years ago in Fort Lauderdale, where he had a few warehouses. He did most work over the phone, with Doris helping him as a secretary. Although retired, they are still taking care of a few clients. The money in their savings account at Truist that criminals gained access to were all the funds the couple had put together over the years.
“My dad is disabled. He is in his mid-70s, and my mom is about to turn 69. I hope to get the word out and help them, but also spread awareness that this can happen to anyone,” Sonja said.
She explained that a few weeks ago, her mother got an email from “Google,” stating she was charged $500 and suggested she calls the listed number to dispute the charge.
“I warned her a million times about such emails. I work with the elderly and know criminals pray on them, and I have received scam emails and messages myself and know they can be very convincing,” said Sonja.
“My mom, unfortunately, was a lot more gullible, and instead of calling her bank to see if there was even a charge on her account, she clicked the link, called the number, and got wrapped up in the lies. They told her they would refund the charges and give her extra money for her troubles,” she added.
While on the phone with the criminals, Doris believed everything they were telling her and, without realizing it, allowed them to take control of her computer. In the process, she signed a document the scammers presented to her, thinking she was signing a refund notice. Instead, it was essentially an international wire transfer that her signature authorized.
“They took all the money from my parents’ savings account. A lot of people would have their savings in separate accounts that may not be as easily accessible to scammers, but my parents are old school and not tech-savvy. Unfortunately, my mom did not have the knowledge to recognize the scam for what it was,” Sonja said.
She added that if the scammers hacked her parents’ account, stole the money, or forged Doris’ signature, it would have been a different situation, as the bank and authorities may have been able to return the money eventually. But because she signed the wire transfer, there isn’t much the police can do.
“Even after the deposit was made, my mom was calling back the person who scammed her to help them with paperwork, saying, “scammers would not pick up when you call them back,” Sonja said. “I told her they are successful in scamming people because they know exactly what to say. I don’t blame her for believing the scam – these people know what they are doing, and they target the elderly.”
Sonja added that Doris was embarrassed and didn’t want to tell anyone what was going on. ”By the time she finally told us, it was too late,” she said.
Broward Sheriff’s Office set Doris and Barry up with an advocate for the elderly fraud victims. It recommended a lawyer who would only charge the couple if they could retrieve any funds, but Sonja said the family does not believe they can get the money back.
“I did some research, and I really can’t see anything being done for them. The bottom line is that when you sign something, it makes it a lot more difficult to retrieve the funds, especially when it is such a large sum transferred overseas,” Sonja added.
She said the idea to start a GoFundMe campaign came from desperation.
“My dad wanted to open college savings account for my daughter, and now they are planning to sell everything they own to take care of bills. I wish I could help my parents, but unfortunately, I have an autoimmune disease and haven’t been able to work full-time,” Sonja said.
She feels the campaign is the least she can do for her parents and hopes the community will support them through this difficult time.
The owner of Coral Springs coffee shop Lady and the Mug, Aimee Tarte offered the Bauman family her support and will give them 10% of all sales on Saturday, November 19, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“I am trying to spread the word as much as I can,” Sonja said. “This is devastating for my parents, and we appreciate the community’s help.”
- Agrippina Fadel grew up in Siberia and received her master's in journalism from Tyumen State University. Agrippina is also a writer and editor at Draftsy.net. She has been a US resident for over ten years and speaks English and Russian.
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