LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - It's a nightmare scenario. Someone files a trumped up lawsuit against you, without you even knowing. A judge rules against you in your absence and you end up owing thousand of dollars. It happened to dozens of people, including Mike Woychik.
He encountered the scammer while trying buy his dream piece of property. Woychik trusted the soft-spoken seller. $25,000 dollars in legal fees later, he says it was a big mistake.
"We have spent countless hours, time and money trying to get justice, trying to get him out of our life," says Woychik.
"Bernard Seidling would file bogus small claims action in various courts across the state in a county where the victims did not reside," says U.S. Postal Inspector Dean Kowalefski.
By the time Woychik learned a court had ruled against him, he faced a judgement of more than $5,000.
"The victims didn't know they were being victimized. They wouldn't find out till they wanted to sell their house or buy a car," says Kowalefski.
"He preys on people who can't afford lawyers and if they don't get a lawyer, he will come after them for the last penny," says Woychik.
Authorities say Seidling did it to 77 different victims. In all, he attempted to extort them out of more than $370,000.
"There is absolutely no doubt, he was after money," says U.S. Attorney John Vaudreuil.
In the end, Seidling didn't get a dime from his victims. He ended up receiving three years in federal prison and a $10,000 fine.
Still, Woychik isn't convinced the story is over.
"I have no doubt that after those three years are up, he's coming after me."
Authorities say you can protect yourself from this sort of scam by regularly checking your credit report. You can also run your name through the online listing of court cases in your state to make sure you're not subject to legal action you don't know about.