Banning resident Sy Schoen thought he was helping a sick neighbor when he gave her money to help pay for her cancer treatment.
Schoen could relate. He lost his wife to cancer four years ago.
“Your initial emotions were, ‘Gee, I’ve got to help this person,’ because it has such an affinity to what we went through,” Schoen said.
But soon after writing a check for $3,600, he says he found out it was all a hoax. Police are investigating Harriet Ann Lyons, an alleged scam artist who has apparently done it before.
Schoen said she might have gotten away with it if one of his sons hadn’t called to check on him. During their conversation, Schoen mentioned his neighbor and her request for money, and his son grew suspicious.
“She was able to find out about the illness my mother had before she passed and used that to get my father to write a check to her,” said Schoen’s son, Darryl Schoen.
Fortunately, they were able to put a stop on the check.
Authorities said Lyons had done it before in Santa Barbara eight years ago.
“I think most have been on the website to see her past history in terms of being in handcuffs in Santa Barbara County, gets out of jail, now she is in Riverside County doing this all over again here,” the son said.
The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office confirmed Lyons served five years in prison for defrauding two elderly women out of close to $1 million.
As for what allegedly happened in Banning, the younger Schoen said he has a warning for seniors.
“Be cautious when people are asking for money,” he said. “Just make sure it makes sense and always feel free to ask another friend or family member, ‘Do you think this makes sense?’”
The Schoens believe they weren’t the only ones taken.