Retired priest scammed out of his life savings

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Father Robert Banzin on Oct. 15, 2023, at the altar at St. Mary Church in Riverside. (Deacon Randy Belice/Chicago Catholic)

Father Robert Banzin, 85, is sharing his cautionary tale of being scammed out of $61,000 — his life savings — in the hope of helping other people avoid being similarly victimized.

In August, Banzin received an email claiming to be from PayPal saying he owed $699 because someone had made a purchase in his name on eBay. Having used PayPal only twice, he knew the charge was fraudulent.

He found a phone number for PayPal on the internet and called to ask for help, not knowing that he was actually contacting scammers.

“In the background there were fake voices and typing going on, so it sounded like an official place, especially when the person who answered said an investigator would be in touch with me,” Banzin said. “I dealt with about three different people for about a week because they were going to be my friends, as it were, and get my money for me.”

Through a series of phone calls and wire transfers, the scammers stole all of the money from his checking and savings accounts.

Banzin is a retired priest who says Mass on Sundays at St. Mary Church in St. Paul VI Parish in Riverside. He relies on his savings along with Social Security payments and stipends from the archdiocese to pay his bills, including property taxes for the apartment he lives in that has been in his family for more 25 years.

After a short time, he felt uneasy about it all and reached out to his bank, the FBI and the Chicago Police Department hoping to get his money back, but it was all gone.

“I really got angry at myself because when I look back, I think, ‘How did I do this?’” he said. “But the police, after I told them about my anger, said ‘You gotta see yourself as a victim. This goes on every day.’ I’m not a new case at all.”

That is why he is sharing his story.

“I felt that I should tell my story as much as I can to warn people to be very careful about what they get on the internet,” Banzin said.

Thanks to some parishioners, Banzin’s cautionary tale has a happy ending.

Deacon Randy Belice from St. Paul VI was serving Mass with Banzin in early September and noticed that something was bothering the usually joyful priest. When he asked, Banzin confided about the scam.

“I was a little taken aback by the depth and the immensity of the loss that he incurred,” Deacon Belice said.

He also noted Banzin’s feelings of guilt and embarrassment at being a victim of a scam.

“I believe, at that point, that he was pretty much aware of the fact that the chances of recovery of his life’s assets were pretty small basically,” Belice said.

Belice and his wife, Paula Jo, reached out to parish staff and the archdiocese about how they could help. They opted for a GoFundMe campaign, since all of the donations would be gifts and would not be taxable, which alleviated a possible additional burden upon Banzin.

After less than two weeks, they raised $63,594. Banzin requested the campaign end after the goal was reached, even though Paula Jo Belice said people continued contacting her asking how they could help.

News of the campaign went far and wide.

“I think the fact that so many people from his past, with students that he taught [at Quigley South] in the 70s even, donated just really speaks to the impact he’s had over multiple decades, the impact that he’s had on all these people’s lives that after all these years they see this and they still reach out to him and want to support him,” Paula Jo Belice said. “To me, that was the most touching piece of everything, was just allowing him to see how much he is loved by all these people through all these years.”

How far the campaign reached surprised Banzin.

“My nephews and nieces live down in Florida, and it got down there. It got to California. It even got to the U.K.,” Banzin said.

He admits he is not comfortable accepting the outpouring of generosity he has received through the campaign.

“I was overwhelmed by the graciousness and kindness of so many people,” he said. “Emotionally, I’m still trying to sort it all out.”


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