Woman falls for sweepstakes scam

Staff writer

Editor’s note: It is this newspaper’s general policy to not publish articles based on anonymous sources. This article is an exception because the lessons from the victim of this scam outweigh the need to include the victim’s name.

Many of us have dreamed of winning the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes and finding ourselves on easy street for the rest of our lives.

On Aug. 24, a Peabody woman — who requested anonymity — got a call from a man who claimed he was with PCH (although it became clear in hindsight he wasn’t), telling her that she was the winner of $2.5 million dollars and that she would receive her winnings just as soon as she sent more than $2,000 to cover the “license” in the state of Oklahoma.

She was skeptical of the man’s claim to be from Publisher’s Clearing House from the beginning. She said she was not an enthusiastic “winner” and was irritated by the frequency and length of his phone calls.

“I bet he called more than 100 times,” she said. “I know I have 22 messages on my answering machine from him. Sometimes he talked more than an hour. I knew the drawing for the Publisher’s Clearing House would be on Aug. 31, but he kept saying I won for the month of July. He really wanted that license money.”

She said he seemed to know things about her and about the community. He made reference to Mayor Larry Larsen and others. Eventually he told her he had a meeting with government officials like the Kansas Secretary of the Treasury, county officials, Larsen, and some city people.

“He said everyone was happy for me. He finally convinced me to send the fee and told me how he wanted it sent and where to send it.

“Now I feel pretty silly, but he just wore me down. I guess I thought that if I took care of that license thing, the prize money would eventually arrive and then he would quit calling me at all hours of the day and night,” she said.

On Aug. 28, she got a bank money order and had Sue Klassen at the Peabody Post Office fill out the information for the express mail package the man had demanded she send. Klassen assured her that it would arrive in two days.

The woman reported that information to the man when he called to see if she had sent the money. The next day, Aug. 29, he called the post office to see if, in fact, the express package had gone out.

Another postal clerk was on duty that day and was having a problem getting the computer to track the package. While she waited, the man chatted in a friendly fashion. He told her she had a nice voice and asked if she was single.

“He just gave me the willies,” she said. “I didn’t think he should have been so cozy and some red flags went up immediately.”

She asked if she could call him back because her computer was responding and he said to skip it, he would call her back later.

“But he never did,” she said. “In the meantime I found the handwritten receipt from the day before. I recognized the customer’s name as someone as someone I knew fairly well. I felt pretty uncomfortable about the whole thing so I called the lady and asked her about it. I thought, ‘oh no’ when she told me what she had sent and why.”

The clerk called Klassen and they discussed the situation and decided it was probably fraud. Klassen called the Postal Inspector Service in Omaha, Neb., and the postmaster in the Oklahoma town where the express package with the check would end up. Within a couple of hours, the postmaster in Oklahoma received a fax with instructions to intercept it. The action put a stop to the delivery of that piece of mail.

On Thursday morning, a man arrived at the Oklahoma post office and said he was there to pick up mail for the sister of the Peabody woman who sent the package. He claimed the sister was the person to whom Klassen had addressed the express package.

The Oklahoma postmaster refused to give him the package, told him they knew it was a scam, and that the Postal Inspector Service had been contacted. The man became angry and left the post office.

On Friday morning, Klassen got a call from the Topeka general mail facility, saying the express package was there and would be delivered to Peabody on Saturday morning.

The Peabody woman got her check back and finally unplugged her phone to avoid repeated calls from the angry scammer in Oklahoma.

The woman still has some issues to clear up because although she has no credit cards, does no business online, and did not give him her banking information, she admitted he does have her Social Security number.

She planned to get in touch with the Social Security Administration as soon as she could after the Labor Day holiday.

She said she is grateful to the two postal clerks who went the extra mile to ensure the interception and return of her check. In addition, she said she has learned a lesson she would like to pass on.

“If anyone gets a call like I did, don’t give in to them. Don’t tell them anything, hang up if you have to, and then run in the opposite direction … just as fast as you can.”

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