'We lost everything': Stickney deacon, wife scammed out of $150K in phishing scheme

Samantha Chatman Image
Friday, April 7, 2023
'We lost everything': Stickney deacon, wife scammed out of $150K in phishing scheme
A local deacon and his wife say they lost more than $150,000 in an elaborate scheme known as phishing.

STICKNEY, Ill. (WLS) -- A local deacon and his wife say they lost more than $150,000 in an elaborate scheme known as phishing.

The couple said their entire retirement savings are gone and are now hoping to warn others to think twice before you open an email.

It started with the click of a link. Now, it's a case that has the attention of the FBI.

The senior couple from Stickney said they are speaking out to alert others and praying they'll get at least some of their money back.

"We lost everything," Deacon Frank Mamolella said.

Mamolella knew something was wrong when he came home and saw his wife on her knees crying.

"She said, 'They took all the money out of our bank account' I said, 'How,'" he recalled.

His wife Margaret said she received an email on her phone from what she thought was an antivirus company, thanking her for her recent purchase.

"I said, 'I didn't order this. I'm not going to be charged $400 for something," Margaret said.

She said she clicked a link in the email, saw a phone number and called the company to dispute what she believed was an inaccurate charge.

Margret said a representative agreed to issue a refund. Then, he said he made an error, claiming to have accidentally refunded her $40,000 instead of just $400.

She said when she checked her bank account, there it was.

"There's $40,000. It's in there, he needs it back," Margaret said.

Margaret said the person instructed her to wire the $40,000 back to him -- and fast -- so that he wouldn't get fired.

Margaret said she went to her bank and wired the money as instructed.

"After that, I felt that should be the end of it, but it wasn't," she said.

She said the man called back, saying the wire didn't go through. So, she wired more money and he said that didn't go through either -- so, she sent more.

In the end, Margaret said she transferred more than $150,000.

"I was sick. That's my nest egg. I was scared," she said.

Her husband said when he learned about what happened, he called the bank and the police right away.

That's when he learned that his wife fell for a phishing scam.

According to the FBI's latest internet crimes report, phishing scams were at the top of their list, with more than 300,000 victims and more than $52 million in losses.

Cyber security expert Davis Barton said phishing attacks start with an email that appears to be from a legitimate business, asking you to click a link.

"They're sending them links. They're sending them files that are infected. They're doing a lot of malicious things at once to try to take advantage of folks who frankly don't understand the technology," Barton said.

In Margaret's case, he said it's possible the fraudsters hacked her bank account, which allowed them to move money from her savings to her checking account to make it look like the company deposited $40,000 of that so-called "accidental refund."

However, in order to get the money into the alleged scammer's account, they needed Margaret to send the wires.

The Stickney couple said they've since reported the case to the FBI and are praying that they'll get justice.

But Deacon Frank admits his faith is waning.

"It's testing my marriage. It's testing my faith in people," he said. "It's crushing. I'm being crushed right now."

The couple's bank said they tried to put a stop to the wires but were unsuccessful in getting the money back.

However, just when the couple was starting to give up hope, they said they recently got a letter from the FBI informing them that the agency is conducting an investigation into their case.

To avoid phishing scams, don't assume an email that looks like it's from a business is real. When in doubt, go to the company's official website and find the contact number to get more information. Be careful before you click a link or open an attachment and never wire money to a stranger.

For more tips on avoiding these types of scams, visit the FBI website.