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Sterling Heights bank teller, police help scam victim get money back

STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. – Police are sharing a story of a woman whose life could have been dramatically transformed by scammers.

"She got a random phone call from a male voice stating she had won a sweepstakes," said Lt. Mario Bastianelli, with the Sterling Heights Police Department.

Elaine Smolarek almost sent the scammers thousands of dollars Saturday. The 84-year-old, who has early signs of dementia, believed she had won a large sum of money.

"We kept telling her, 'Mom, you're not winning a sweepstakes. You didn't win any amount of money. These people are just trying to trick you,'" said her son, Greg Smolarek.

Greg Smolarek said his mother had been called by the unknown number for a while.

"They eventually wore her down," Greg Smolarek said. "She would answer the phone and talk to them, and they kept gathering information."

Elaine Smolarek doesn't have a car or a driver's license, so she was instructed to take a car service from the senior living center to a bank to get the money. The entire time, she was on the phone with the people trying to scam her.

The bank teller overheard the conversation, realized something was wrong, stopped the transaction and alerted the police. 

Elaine Smolarek had already sent another check the day before to the scammers' Connecticut address. Thankfully, the bank was able to put a stop payment on it before it was cashed.

The Sterling Heights Police Department is hoping the story serves as a warning to residents and urges them to check with elderly family members.


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