She befriended them and appealed to their compassion with a story of a dying or dead child. She exploited their generosity when she cried to them about her hardships. She used her 10 year-old son for sympathy. But the woman who was investigated for scamming two elderly women out of thousands of dollars likely will not face charges.
The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office rejected two Oakdale cases and likely will not file charges in a Modesto case involving Natasha Ann Uilani Medeiros and her husband, William Richards.
“Simply getting ‘scammed’ by a smooth-talking person is no crime,” District Attorney’s Office spokesman John Goold said in an email. “If money is freely/voluntarily given/donated/gifted, there is no theft. Unless an older person lacks the mental capacity to give consent or undue influence is used to obtain it, elders are free to make gifts or donations to anyone they choose.”
But one of the victims, a 90-year-old Modesto woman who asked to be identified only by her middle name, Eileen, for fear of being victimized again, said the $14,000 in checks she wrote to Medeiros were intended as a loan.
For four months, Eileen said, Medeiros would come to her house two or three times a week, often bringing her 10-year-old son, to ask for money. It was mid-November when a representative from Eileen’s bank called her son to report the suspicious account activity. Eileen said her son asked her about the money and she explained that it was all a loan; she had the notes to prove that Medeiros promised to pay her back. Her son tried to convince her she was being scammed but it wasn’t until Eileen saw Medeiros’ mugshot and accompanying story of her arrest by Oakdale police on suspicion of elder abuse in The Bee on Nov. 29 that she fully believed it.
“I never in a million years thought I would open the paper and find the picture of the lady who had been in my house ...” Eileen said as she paused to wipe tears from her eyes “... all those times.”
Medeiros could not be reached for comment for this story.
Oakdale police became aware of Medeiros, who lives in Merced County, when they received two reports at the end of November.
On Nov. 26 a couple told police they had given Medeiros $200 when she came to their front door with the story of a 4-year-old son who died of brain cancer, according to Oakdale Police spokeswoman Janeen Yates. But they became suspicious when Medeiros returned a few days later, asking for more money. They told police Medeiros had brought her 10-year-old with her and he seemed embarrassed.
Two days later, Oakdale police got another call about Medeiros, this from a 69-year-old woman who told police she’d given her $8,500 over a 10-month period. Medeiros went to the Oakdale woman’s home on Thanksgiving when her family was there and the relatives put an end to it.
The 69-year-old Oakdale woman’s history with Medeiros has many parallels to Eileen’s.
Medeiros showed up at both homes with candy bars. She told the Oakdale woman she was raising money to pay medical expenses associated with her 3-year-old son’s leukemia, according to a restraining order she got against Medeiros. Eileen said she told her the younger boy had died of leukemia.
“I told her I wasn’t interested in candy but I gave her $5 to help with the fund and I prayed with her,” Eileen said. “She came back three or four days later and said, ‘You said if ever I need anything to come see you.’ Well I don’t know what I said when I prayed because I don’t have canned prayers … and then things kind of went from one thing to another.”
Medeiros immediately started calling Eileen “Grandma.”
The Oakdale woman wrote in the restraining order, “Natasha also started referring to me as MOM and told her (10-year-old son) to call me GRANDMA. I feel manipulated by her referring to me as family.”
She continually returned to both women’s homes asking for money for things like rent, car registration, utilities bills and moving expenses because her Atwater neighborhood no longer was safe “because the boy next door was shot.” She told Eileen she needed money for glasses for the 10-year-old and told the Oakdale woman she needed money for his eye surgery. The Modesto woman never saw the boy wearing glasses, but it was obvious he needed them.
“I said ‘no’ several times but then ended up giving her a check,” Eileen said. She described one occasion when she, Medeiros and her 10-year-old son were sitting at her dinette. “She kept (saying), ‘Please, grandma, please, grandma, and I said, ‘No, no, no you haven’t paid me one cent, and she got down on her knees and she crawled around to me with tears coming down her face. That is when (Medeiros’ son) put his hands up over his face and crawled under the table.”
She gave Medeiros $1,100 that day.
Eileen said, to date, Medeiros has paid her back only $100. She left it under Eileen’s doormat after her release from jail on the Oakdale case. Medeiros’ husband, William Richards, also was arrested in that case because he drove to the woman’s house and cashed several of the checks, according to investigators.
Goold said because both women willingly gave money to Medeiros, regardless of whether her stories were true, there was not enough evidence to prove a crime beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury.
“It is important for everyone, young and old, to avoid giving their money away to someone they don’t know, no matter how touching or sad the story,” Goold said. “An anonymous person knocking on your door that you’ve never met is not someone to immediately trust. You will have no way of knowing whether their circumstances are true or false. Refer them to local community resources and if they become abusive or aggressive, call law enforcement immediately.”
Eileen is unsure what she will do next. She is getting assistance from the Senior Law Project and is considering taking Medeiros to small claims court but doesn’t know if it is worthwhile given her circumstances. She said she is battling a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and is undergoing counseling for the emotional toll of the ordeal with Medeiros.
“I had sort of set this aside for a while and now it is all turned up again because I had a counseling session this morning,” Eileen said during an interview with The Bee last week at the Senior Law Center. “It is a little overwhelming, I would like to see it resolved. I am sorry she put herself through this and dragged me with her, but it is not fair to me when I was trusting her.”
Avoid getting scammed
Senior Law Project Executive Director Joyce Gandelman offers these tips to avoid getting scammed:
- If you have a family member or child you trust a lot give them access to monitor your accounts. “I don’t suggest putting anyone on your account but allow them the ability to monitor it,” Gandelman said.
- Set a dollar limit on the amount that can be withdrawn from accounts and consider requiring a signature from a second person to authorize large withdrawals.
- Before you open the door to someone, ask who it is. “A lot of seniors just get taken off guard,” Gandelman said. “It is really about being aware on not being afraid to say no; you can always say no. I tell seniors that if they are put in a position in which they are afraid to say no, tell that person their son or daughter controls all finances and that they must consult with them. That will usually send the people away.”
- And for most phone or internet scams Gandelman offers these reminders: You cannot win a lottery unless you enter. If someone offers you something that is too good to be true it probably is not true. You should never be asked to pay money to win a prize. The Unites States does not have debtor’s prison. “If you get a call that says ‘you owe a debt and we are going to come arrest you,’ you know that is a scam.”
If you have any questions or concerns about being scammed, call the Senior Law Project at 209-577-3814 before handing over money.