Scam: Lost life savings after accepting Facebook friend request

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) "That was all the money I had in the world," Gloria Bancroft said.

Bancroft, 77, says she lost her life savings after she accepted a Facebook friend request.

"From someone named Sheryl Antonio," Bancroft said.

"Sheryl" said she worked for Facebook and told Bancroft she was a finalist and then the lucky winner of Facebook's $1 million cash giveaway. To claim her winnings, Bancroft just had to pay a small delivery fee. So she mailed a check to her new Facebook friend, only to find out the money needed to be wired instead. The woman started texting Bancroft updates, even mailing her convincing looking letters from the IRS and the International Monetary Fund about a series of tax and insurance problems with her prize.

"Stupid me kept sending money," Bancroft said.

She even took her wheelchair through snowstorms to wire the cash. But Bancroft kept those transactions secret from her family and the staff at her assisted living facility.

"Finally I was out of money. I had paid about $8,000," Bancroft said.

That's when the scammers started sending her checks. Turns out it was tons of counterfeit credit.

"I wish I could say I was surprised, but I'm not," said Greg Marchildon of the AARP. "This is a classic, what we call in the trades impostor scam."

Marchildon says it's Vermont most pervasive and profitable scam. Seniors are common targets because they tend to have money, are less tech-savvy and more trusting.

"For many seniors, the thought that someone or some group of people would spend a lot of time sitting around in some windowless boiler room figuring out how to rip them off is just a real foreign concept," Marchildon said.

Bancroft says she should have known better. She used to be a cop. Back in 1971, she was Burlington's first female detective.

"When I was a police detective I used to tell other little old ladies if it sounds too good to be true, it's not true," she said.

Marchildon says science may have caused the former investigator to overlook obvious clues. Research shows winning triggers a euphoria that overwhelms logic and reasoning processes in the brain.

"That's when they make bad decisions and bad things start to happen," Marchildon explained.

"Any investigation is only what I've done myself," Bancroft said.

Justice in these cases is usually disappointing. International scammers are nearly impossible to catch and even harder to extradite.

"This is a crime that is so heinous that when someone loses their money there really is no retribution," Marchildon said.

"What I didn't go through just to get a million dollars and ended up with nothing," Bancroft said.

An embarrassing lesson learned the hard way.