How a Kirkwood octogenarian became an international money mule
Last year, Glenda Seim became the poster child no one wants to be: a senior who went from being the victim of a Nigerian scam artist to joining him in fraud. In November, the 81-year-old Kirkwood widow pleaded guilty to two felony charges alleging she was a “money mule” who assisted in fraudulent transactions totaling as much as $1.5 million.
Seim, who now lives in Webster Groves, was sentenced in federal court yesterday. And while sentencing guidelines called for four years in prison, even the prosecutor urged the judge to show mercy.
Seim, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracy Berry, had shown “extreme remorse,” not only repenting from her crimes but filming a public service video for the FBI. In it, Seim detailed falling in love with a man she’d never met — and ignoring friends, family members and even law enforcement when they sought to persuade her to stop sending him money and, ultimately, facilitating his fraud.
Seim knew, Berry wrote in court filings, that the video could open her up to “substantial public attention and ridicule.” But she did it to warn others.
Judge Stephen Clark agreed. He sentenced Seim to probation, along with orders to repay her victims.
Berry said that learning the details of Seim’s fall from grace was eye-opening, even for a prosecutor who specializes in these crimes. Seim’s public defender described sitting down with the elderly woman and walking her step by step through all the ways she’d been lied to.
“And she said at one point she saw the light go on, and she saw Miss Seim realize what she had done, and that she had been swindled,” she said. “We do not want people to end up having to appear in federal court or in state court to have that light go on.”
Berry joined Friday’s St. Louis on the Air for a closer look at the way locals are both victimized and victimizers in online financial fraud. A Federal Trade Commission report stated that seniors in romance scams were swindled out of $139 million in 2020, an increase from $84 million from 2019.
Journalist Ryan Krull, who chronicled the fallout in a Riverfront Times cover story last month, explained that while it’s hard to quantify the exact toll, the trend is clear: “They've become more prevalent since the pandemic, as people are more isolated, more alone.”
And it’s not just obviously lonely people. Krull said some victims he talked to were in committed relationships — they were people who “seemingly had very full lives, who still fell for this.”
In one case, a victim told law enforcement officers that she knew all about the kinds of fraud they were talking abou, and even shared with them links from “Dr. Phil” covering similar cases.
“And then she turned around and ripped off her family members,” Berry recalled.
Berry stressed that, while some people refuse to see reason, others come around. She urged people with family members or friends being affected to keep trying — and get others involved if need be.
“Law enforcement is willing to work with individuals, to warn them and to try to get them to stop,” she said. “Sometimes a visit from a federal agent makes all the difference in the world, and what their friends do, what their loved ones do, can make a difference.”
“So I just urge people, don't give up on them. Don't stop.”
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.