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Scammers use obituary to steal $11,000 from West Allis woman

Posted at 10:27 PM, Feb 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-01 10:45:32-05

Lorraine Welniak's home is filled with memories and presents from her grandkids and great-grandchildren. She never thought someone would use that bond against her, to steal $11,000. 

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"They wanted every cent I had," she said. "I had to tell them that I didn't have any more money. I can't go into my home equity loan."

In the past two years, Welniak, 86, lost her husband of 65 years and her only son. It was from her son's obituary, that scammers got personal information about her and her family. Welniak got a call at home from a so-called attorney saying her grandson was in trouble.

"They told me that he may go to jail because he hit somebody," she said. 

Welniak didn't fall for it right away. 

"I told them this sounds like a scam, but they said it wasn't, and asked if I wanted to talk to my grandson," she said. "I said yes, and then I heard a voice say 'hi grandma' and the voice sounded exactly like my grandson. He then told me to talk to the lawyers."

According to a search warrant, the scammers told Welniak, that in order to get her grandson out of jail, she'd have to buy iTunes gift cards, and give them the number on each card. They told her she could be reimbursed. And warned her what to say if anyone questioned her.

"To tell the store clerks that I'm having the whole family over for a big party," Wolniak said.

Because her own family had already been through a lot, she didn't tell anyone and maxed out her credit card buying the gift cards. She realized it was all a lie about a week later when she never got a call back about her grandson or reimbursement.

She's embarrassed, acknowledging, most others wouldn't have gone that far for someone else. 

"But Grandmas are different, I guess," she said. 

West Allis Police investigated this, but because the scammers are tied to a number in China, it's out of their jurisdiction, and they have no way of prosecuting.

Welniak has made peace with the fact that she will never get that $11,000 back. She just hopes her story can prevent someone else from falling victim to this.