Brian Padilla wasn't responsible for his grandparents losing their life savings to scam artists.
Still, he feels obligated to help them financially.
Padillas' grandparents, Chuck and Nancy Padilla, were robbed of $109,000 last year by thieves posing as their grandson, who lives in Paris, France.
Impersonating their grandson, the scammers, beginning in August, told Chuck Padilla by phone that Brian had traveled to Mexico to attend a friend's wedding. The faux Brian said he had hit a woman's car while he was drunk. He needed $2,000. His grandfather wired him the money.
The scam artists called back several times, each time needing more money — first for a lawyer and to be housed separately from the general jail population; later to pay for the woman's car and a building that had been damaged in the wreck.
When it was over, the Padillas were out $109,000 — their life savings — before they realized it wasn't really their grandson who had called.
The Padillas didn't call their grandson's home in Paris, France, or other relatives because the caller said doing so would have just worried his wife and other kin.
Finally, Nancy Padilla called France, and their grandson answered. They realized then that something was amiss. He wasn't being held in Mexico.
Despite efforts from the Padillas to recoup the money from the thieves, or at least to get some answers, they have been stonewalled, Chuck Padilla said.
Brian Padilla, meanwhile, is doing what he can to help his grandparents financially.
He has started a page on a website — http://www.indiegogo.com/gma-gpa-padilla — to collect donations from kind-hearted souls, and so far has received interest from New Zealand, Japan, Sweden and France, besides the United States.
As of Wednesday, the effort had collected more than $4,500 from more than 100 contributors. Brian Padilla said his goal is to collect at least $10,000.
"A lot of friends in Paris have donated," Brian said. "We have gotten just random donations (from across the globe)."
Chuck Padilla said he didn't know that his grandson was collecting the money until told about it by someone else.
"All I heard is he has some kind of a fundraiser," Chuck Padilla said. "I've stayed away from that."
He said he is "a little bit ticked off" by the FBI in Champaign and Chicago plus the various banks involved because no one will call him back about the scam.
"I've called the Bank of America for information, and I get cut off," Chuck Padilla said.
Brad Ware, FBI media representative in Springfield, said he can't comment specifically on the Padilla case but said the scenario used with the couple is common.
"Frauds and scams this time of year, with seniors especially, we see them very frequently," Ware said, adding that typically if money is wired out of the country, it cannot be recovered.
"We almost have to hit it from a preventive standpoint," Ware said.
The FBI spokesman recommended that those caught in similar scams should contact their banks to prevent money being improperly taken out of their accounts.
Brian Padilla said his grandparents would not ask for help from the public.
"My grandfather is a great guy, but he doesn't really want to ask for anything," he said. "I just want to make sure that they can do all right. I'm really far away.
"The scammers used my name. I know it's not my fault and I couldn't have done anything.
"I was really shocked when I found out what happened. I worked with my grandfather in the summer ever year. He's very intelligent. He's all there."
His grandparents are in their 80s.
While Chuck and Nancy Padilla don't want to ask for help, they do want to help others know that such scams are operating. Authorities said most people who are victimized in such a manner are too embarrassed to tell anyone, even the police.
"I think it's really brave of my grandparents (that they wanted to publicize it in a newspaper article)," Brian said.
The indiegogo.com website is designed to collect money and raise awareness for a number of different worthy causes.
Brian Padilla said the fundraiser for his grandparents has been one of the most-viewed ones on the site.
Brian said the fundraiser isn't just about collecting money for his grandparents. It's also to raise awareness about the scam, which reportedly is a common one.
"There's a lot of scams out there," Brian said.
Someone calls impersonating a grandchild or other loved one, says he or she is in trouble and asks that money be wired.
"I did a video so the people can see it is me (on the website)," Brian said.
He has also set up a Facebook page — http://www.facebook.com/gmagpapadillasfundraiser.
Brian said since he placed the information on Facebook, several people have posted comments that a similar fate almost happened to their grandparents.
Chuck and Nancy Padilla wondered how the scammers were able to impersonate their grandson so well and knew so much about them.
Brian said he thinks part of it was the caller led them on and got them to give information.
A native of Rantoul, Brian lived in the community until he was 5. His father lives in Monticello and his mom in Rantoul. He said all of his aunts and uncles live around Rantoul.
A graduate of the University of Illinois with a degree in architecture, Brian, who is 32, met his future wife, Virginie, while he was on a study-abroad trip to France. After finishing his studies at the U of I he decided to return to France and earned another degree there. He now works in special effects for films and television.
"I'm really far away," Brian said. "I'd appreciate anyone taking interest (in the fundraising campaign). Even if they can't donate, they can go to the site. Just going there helps."
Nancy Padilla said she appreciates what her grandson is doing.
"I think it's wonderful on his part," she said. "I feel bad though. Even though it wasn't his fault, I think he feels responsible they used him, that he felt he needed to do something to help out."