A West Sayville woman says she was scammed out of nearly $100,000 by a man pretending to collect back taxes last October.
Mary VanEssendelft, 79, was knitting in her living room on Oct. 15, when she received a call from a man who identified himself as a federal agent.
He told VanEssendelft her eldest son, Warren, 55, owed back taxes from 2012, she said. He warned her that if she didn’t pay up, her son, who lives with her and has a learning disability, would be arrested.
“I wasn’t thinking at the time,” she said. “I was just trying to protect my family.”
VanEssendelft said the man, whom she never saw in person, called her again the next morning, this time with detailed instructions on how to deposit the money. He told her to drive to a nearby bank and deposit $5,500 into an account.
She was also told that her house was bugged and instructed not to tell anyone about the transactions.
Over the next several weeks, VanEssendelft forked over her life savings in installments as small as $2,000 and as large as $20,000. She deposited money in banks all over Suffolk County into accounts under names like Michael St. Clair and Casey Smith, she said.
In late October — after Suffolk County police said she had deposited $98,430 — she told the scammer that she didn’t have anything left to give.
He told her to start asking her children for money, so she called her son Jeffrey VanEssendelft, 51, of Holbrook, for help.
Jeffrey VanEssendelft said his mother was “shaking” when he met her later that day at her home and refused to tell him why she needed the cash, fearing her home was “bugged.” She later relented, and, in hushed whispers, told him about her predicament.
“I just told her immediately, ‘Mom, you’re getting scammed,’ ” Jeffrey VanEssendelft said. He then reported the incident to police.
VanEssendelft, who had been widowed in January 2015, said she “fell for it” because of the stress of the past year.
She had surgery for breast cancer two weeks after her husband died and in May was treated for ovarian cancer.
“With all of this stuff happening all at once, I just wasn’t thinking clearly,” she said.
Police said they’re investigating the incident. The IRS could not immediately be reached for comment.