Florida Keys

71-year-old security guard accused in $500,000 bank phishing scheme


A 71-year-old Stock Island woman helped swindle $500,000 from victims in a phishing scheme by offering strangers her bank accounts for deposits and then wiring sums up to $239,000 overseas, state investigators said.

Lila B. Garcia accepted various checks from someone who reached out to her on social media using the name Brian McClure and, between June 2013 and November 2015, whirled fat checks into her accounts and sent thousands at a time to banks in Malaysia, India and Nigeria, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement Special Agent Millard Quad.

McClure told Garcia he needed an American bank account to collect money from his American clients. Garcia later told state agents she found McClure “trustworthy” and was trying to “help the man out,” agents said.

Garcia, a security guard who lives on Miriam Street, admitted to a number of transactions connected to a financial phishing scam, where people’s email accounts are taken over and used to instruct their banks to wire money to Garcia’s accounts without their consent, the FDLE said.

“I’m stupid,” Garcia told investigators when asked why she continued to accept checks from people she did not know, such as a Monica Green, according to the FDLE’s probable cause affidavit.

Some of the money was returned, so the total loss stands at $355,952. The identity of the person at the center of the phishing hasn’t been identified.

Garcia was arrested Monday on suspicion of felony fraud of at least $50,000 and booked into the county jail on Stock Island, where she remained Tuesday afternoon on $150,000 bond.

“Garcia claimed to keep only a few hundred dollars to pay her bills, however the dollar amounts moving in and out of her account indicate that she maintained control over larger amounts,” reports state.

Between Sept. 12, 2013, and June 2014, “Garcia withdrew $87,000 in cash and later withdrew $151,000 and wired the money via Western Union or Money Gram to various individuals overseas,” Quad reported in a 12-page affidavit he signed Nov. 9. The account was at First State Bank of the Florida Keys.

From the start, Garcia was told by various officials she was taking part in a scam. On June 25, 2013, she tried to cash a $1,700 counterfeit check at a Key West pawn shop. The police were called and an officer explained to Garcia how phishing scams work and offered tips on how to avoid them.

In August 2015, a Centennial Bank vice president questioned a $32,000 deposit into Garcia’s account and a subsequent $9,000 withdrawal. Garcia told her a distant cousin sent the money and the $9,000 was taken out to fix her son’s teeth.

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen