We got a call today from an 82-year-old Tacoma woman who wanted to alert us to a telephone scam directed at her.
She didn’t fall for the bait – a $1.5 million prize purportedly from Publishers Clearing House – but she also didn’t lose the $455 the scammers were looking for.
The woman, who asked not to be identified, gave us the gist of her dealings with her phone companion in hopes others would not fall for the fraud.
She said she got a call early, about 7 a.m., from a man saying she’d won the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes, worth $1.5 million. (It didn’t seem to matter that she’d never entered the contest.)
After some congratulations, the caller said a pair of U.S. marshals were standing by to give her the money but a couple of things needed to be handled first.
No. 1:She’d have to decide whether she wanted them to send the big check, along with a van, balloons and TV cameras, or did she want to get her money in private?
No. 2: She’d have to come up with $455 to cover some of the income taxes on her winnings. (They were willing to pay some of the tax bill but not all.)
The best way to turn over the money was to go to a nearby store and buy a “green card” that could be loaded with the $455. Once she’d done that, she needed to give the caller a number from the card so it could be verified that the money was there.
How soon could she do that? the caller wondered, adding it would be best if she didn’t tell anybody what the money was going for until all the details had been worked out.
Wise to the scam, the woman put her benefactor off and made some calls of her own – to Tacoma police, the state Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Trade Commission.
The bottom line was that the police couldn’t act until a crime had been committed – that is, her handing over the $455 – and that once the caller got the verification number, the money quickly would be gone and no one would be coming to her house, with or without balloons.
When the scammer called back, the woman told him she knew he was a crook. The click of the phone being hung up was the last thing she heard from the caller.
It’s a shame about there not being any big check, but at least there wasn’t a big loss either.