PORTLAND -- The scam began with an email.
Kim (not her real name) got one from someone posing as a soldier fighting in Kabul Afghanistan. He said he had three metal trunks filled with jewels and valuables totaling in the millions of dollars, the spoils of war.
The soldier said he got the trunks as far as Ghana but needed help getting them from Africa to Portland.
For her help, Kim was to receive nearly a third of the loot once it arrived in Oregon.
The soldier sent all kinds of official looking documents, including a contact name and number. A 'Doctor King' sent Kim his credentials and reference material to prove the trunks were in his possession and all they needed was help to get this soldier's trunks to America.
“I wired $42,000 from my IRA through my bank in Sellwood, Wells Fargo," Kim told KGW.
The money was supposed to pay for all the fees involved to get the trunks through Homeland Security. She received via email, official looking receipts of the transfer.
"Dr. King told me on the phone he got the money and the trunks would arrive at my door in 72 hours," she said.
Three days later, the trunks didn’t arrive but another phone call did. Dr. King said there was a problem, more money would be needed.
“I sent the $42,000, 'I want to get out,' but he said 'no you can't get out,'" she said, "He said 'no you can't get out you're already involved.'”
Then came the threats that the IRS knew about the money she sent, and that she would go to jail if she didn’t go through with the deal. The crooks told her they needed another $80,000.
“I was scared to go to jail and everything," Kim said, "so I say 'I'll pay that and you give me the boxes.' Seventy-two hours they told me it would be here.”
Kim said she took $80,000 from her IRA account and went to the Wells Fargo Branch in Sellwood and wired the money off to Ghana, West Africa.
Three days later, the boxes didn’t arrive but Kim got a phone call from Dr. King. They needed more money. Kim said she refused and Dr. King hung up. She said she immediately tried to call him back but the phone line was now disconnected.
“At that point, I know it was fraud, said Kim. So Monday I say, 'Oh my God this is scam my money is gone.'”
That’s when she sent her daughter, we’re calling Jenn, an email that all the money was gone.
At first, Jenn couldn’t believe that mother, a retired physics professor, had sent all the retirement money that Kim and her disabled husband, a retired physician, to crooks in Africa.
“How did Wells Fargo allow a 71-year-old woman walk into a bank and take out $80,000 in one big swell swoop and send it to a West African Bank?”
KGW asked Wells Fargo Spokesperson Tom Unger. Doesn't that set off a red flag?
“Oh yeah definitely," Unger said, "that's why we're trained to ask 'what are you using the funds for, are you sure you want to do this?”
“We can advise the customer," Unger said, "We can warn the customer, but in the end, it's their money and we can't refuse the customer their funds.”
Kim and her daughter Jenn insist Wells Fargo employees never questioned her about why she was sending so much money to Africa.
“We're not going to catch these guys," Jenn said. "The problem is with the banks that let this happen. There were many levels of checks and balances that did not occur that alarms should have went off on many levels at the bank.”
“I never thought in a million years that this would happen and that's the message I want to get out," Jenn said, "You think it can't happen to you. It can happen to you. I never thought in a million years my mom would do what she did and that was my fault."
“The only way to stop (the scam) is to pressure the banks, to require regulations on who can access seniors’ accounts. We're not going to win this battle and it will only increase,” said Jenn.
Unger said the bank did warn the mother.
"Well if we tried to warn her, I don't see how we can take the blame because in the end it's the customer's decision. I blame the scamsters and the crooks out there for preying on innocent victims," he said.