Privacy laws, scammers combine to bilk widow out of life savings

Here’s a tip learned the hard way: Get your name on your elderly parents’ bank accounts.

KARE 11 says a Wahpeton, North Dakota woman’s life savings were cleaned out by scammers who called her days after her husband died, apparently getting the tip thanks to an online obituary.

It’s a familiar scam — one my own elderly mother fell victim to a few year ago: the scammers call saying you’ve won something, but demand that taxes be paid first. The elderly are advised not to tell any family members and the withdrawals from the bank keep coming.

Here’s the thing: even if the bank knows fraud is occurring, they can’t alert family members because of privacy laws, KARE 11 says.

On one occasion Hansen was told by the scammers to tell the bank she needed the cash for a new car. They also instructed her to say she needed money to remodel her home and help pay for a grandchild’s wedding.

Neither [Kitty] Hansen nor her daughter blames the bank.

“They said, ‘We can’t call you even though we knew of the fraud, because of privacy laws,’” Anderson said. “Maybe that’s something that needs to be changed.”

Anderson regrets not having her name on her parents’ account, which would have allowed the bank to call her when it suspected fraud.

Once Anderson’s Wells Fargo account was drained, the scammers convinced her to apply for a $60,000 home equity loan to keep the payments coming. The bank denied it.

However, the scammers successfully convinced Hansen to take a $6,000 cash advance on her credit card, which she now must pay back.

Ideally, bank employees — faced with obeying a law or watching an old widow lose her life savings — would apply the “it’s better to seek forgiveness than ask for permission” rule of ignoring the law.

In a perfect world, the Justice Department would mobilize every resource to treat the scammers like the terrorists they are.

Alas, the world is not a perfect place.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the widow.