Phone scammers don't know when to quit

Feb 15 2011 - 11:17am

LEWISTON, Idaho -- Mary Jane Cline knew right away the prize being offered was too sweet to be real.

But the phone calls from a Jamaican area code promising $1.5 million and a litany of prizes quickly turned from minor annoyance to frustration when they repeated more than 10 times over three days late last week.

"The guy was going to deliver the money that afternoon, and we had to have $299 to give him for insurance on the check," Cline said of the calls that came into her and her husband's Lewiston Orchards home beginning Wednesday.

The man on the other end, who identified himself as Jonathan Taylor with Winner's International, said they were entered into the contest out of a pool of credit-card users at Walmart.

Winner's International is not accredited by the Better Business Bureau.

Thankfully, Cline and her husband could smell the scam coming miles away.

"We haven't entered any contests and when it rang up Jamaica and the guy's got a Jamaican accent, it doesn't take more than a rocket scientist to put it all together," she said.

Cline hung up on the caller, but the phone continued to ring. The prize she and her husband had won was sweeter, and the details changed of why the Clines were selected. Instead of a processing fee, the scammers were now asking for a $500 prepaid card from CVS Pharmacy.

"Each time they call back again they'd up it, the next time when I got the $2.5 million and the Mercedes-Benz I was selected because of my state and zip code," Cline said.

Free Geico insurance was later added to the mix on a final call Friday afternoon.

An initial call came from Las Vegas, with the rest from different Jamaica-based numbers or from unknown callers, she said.

At one point, Gary Cline started identifying himself as detective Sgt. Grim with the police department when he answered the phone. Gary Cline also told the scammers the FBI was tracing the call.

"I figured if he could pull a scam, I could pull one too," Gary Cline said.

It all seemed odd for the couple who had never received the calls before. The scammers had the couple's address, but never got any personal information or account numbers. Officials at the police department told the Clines to notify their bank and credit card companies to watch for any suspicious activity on the accounts.

To complicate things, Gary Cline received a letter shortly before the calls began saying he had won the World Net International Sweepstakes and asking him to cash in a $2,950.50 check to activate his $100,000 prize. That letter was turned over to the Federal Trade Commission.

Lewiston Police Capt. Roger Lanier said scams are frequent through the mail and via phone. He said there's not much officers can do about them when the calls originate outside of the country or out of state.

"Most of the time when they get taken they get taken because they voluntarily sent money to something (where) they thought they were going to get a big payday," Lanier said.

Luckily, Lanier said most people don't fall for scams. He advises against giving out personal account numbers, or ever sending money to win a prize.

Mary Jane Cline just wants to warn others about the potential for financial losses.

"If they're doing this to me, they've got to be doing it to somebody else," she said. "I just don't want it to be some little old lady who doesn't know what's going on."

Gary may be contacted at bgarylmtribune.com or (208) 848-2262.

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(c) 2011, The Lewiston Morning Tribune, Idaho

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

 

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