Let this serve as a cautionary tale:
The Rev. Robert Banzin had saved up about $61,000, which he planned to use to replace his 20-year-old car and pay for medication and other expenses. But these plans are now on hold.
The 85-year-old retired Catholic priest was robbed of his life savings in a financial scam, which friends and colleagues, who say he’s a “wonderful” and “positive” influence, are helping replenish through fundraising.
Experts warned that these types of scams are common among senior citizens and shared tips to help avoid it.
“I just felt totally abused,” Banzin said. “This is my money; I worked all my life for it.”
Banzin said the ordeal started on Aug. 17 when he received an email from what he thought was PayPal, telling him there was a $699 charge on his account from eBay. Knowing this charge was “ridiculous,” Banzin contacted a PayPal support phone number he found online. Instead of the online payment company, he said he accidentally contacted a group of fraudsters.
“They said, ‘We’re investigators, I’ll put you with an investigator from PayPal,’” Banzin said. “They sort of dragged me in, sucked me in. (They said) they’re going to help me stop the hackers from getting at my money in the bank and online, and they’re going to do this with their specialists. They became my friends.”
Over the course of about a week and a half, Banzin said he was convinced to first send a wire transfer, a form of payment that is nearly untraceable, before handing over his bank account information. He said large amounts of money started disappearing from his account, eventually totaling more than $61,000.
He said he reported the fraud to his bank, the FBI and the Chicago police, but he learned that it’s unlikely he’ll ever get his money back or that these agencies will catch the people responsible. He also retained an attorney. The Chicago police said detectives are investigating the case.
“I’m very angry at myself, but the police and lawyer were telling me, ‘No, you are a victim, you are a victim, and warn other people not to become victims,’” he said.
But there is this consoling coda:
When Deacon Randy Belice heard about what happened to Banzin, he knew he wanted to help in some way. So he started a GoFundMe a couple of weeks ago that’s raised more than $28,000, as of last week.
Belice works at St. Paul VI Parish in Riverside, where Banzin is a weekend presider. But he’s known Banzin for about 20 years. When he was a parishioner, Belice said, he admired Banzin’s homilies touching on social justice and relating Scripture to everyday life, helping inspire Belice’s development as a deacon.
“One of the consistent themes that Father Banzin has preached is that we are all, regardless of who we are, we are beloved by God because we are all his beloved creation,” Belice said.
The GoFundMe page for Father Banzin now notes that they have exceeded the goal for restoring the lost funds. Visitors can still contact Father Banzin through the page to offer encourage, prayers or support.