Linton woman is a victim of a telephone scam; Sheriff Sanders advises public to be cautious
On Sun., Jan. 20, 2013, a 75-year-old woman from Linton received a phone call from a male subject that she was the lucky winner of a 2012 Nissan car and $40,000 cash through a Reader’s Digest sweepstakes. She was asked to wire $1,950 to claim her prizes. They would then deliver the car and cash to her at her residence.
“Every week somebody is calling our office with some issue such as this,” Emmons County Sheriff Gary Sanders said. “Some are regarding door-to-door salespeople, and some are telephone scams.”
On Mon., Jan. 21, at approximately 8 p.m., the Emmons County Sheriff’s Office received a call from an individual stating that her mother may have been a victim of a scam. She reported that earlier in that day, at approximately 1 p.m., her mother, driven by a family member, went to Western Union in Bismarck and wired $1,950 to an individual in New York State. In addition to that, she also paid $161 for wire servicing fees. She was given a confirmation number by Western Union at the request of the suspect.
“The victim was even asked by employees at Western Union if this is really what she wanted to do as they were suspicious, and the victim said yes,” Sanders said.
After making the transaction, the victim made the contact with the suspect using the phone number he gave her and provided him the confirmation number.
“In this day and age, many of those people involved in criminal activity, like scammers, often use prepaid cell phones they can buy at discount stores as they are very difficult to trace back to a legitimate person since they use an alias name to buy them,” he said.
They buy the cell phones, use them for a period of time and then throw them away and repurchase another prepaid cell phone to continue their activity.
It is highly likely that the subject was at or very near a Western Union office when that transaction was made.
When the victim returned home, she received a call from the suspect that they received the money and that she would be receiving her cash and that the car was enroute. The suspect told the victim not to tell anybody of her winnings. In fact, he had told her that from the beginning.
“That is a red flag!” Sanders warned.
Later, the victim again received a call from the suspect. She was told that there had been some trouble. They said they drove past the Sterling exit, and enroute to her residence, they were stopped by law enforcement. They said they were detained along with the vehicle as it was not licensed. That meant they were unable to deliver her prizes to her that day. However, they reassured her the delivery would be done soon.
At this point, nearly eight hours after the transaction, the Emmons County Sheriff’s Office was notified by the victim’s daughter. The victim continued to receive phone calls from the suspect, and she was told they needed another $3,800 to cover additional expenses.
“We advised the victim this was a scam and told her not to send any more money,” Sanders said. “Suspects will continue to call as much as possible until all revenue is exhausted.”
The victim did not send additional money, but she was still receiving phone calls from the suspect. During one call, the suspect told her they were the FBI and that the FBI and sheriff would be escorting them when they made the delivery to her. Sanders told the victim that the FBI was not involved, and again, that this was a classic scam. He also advised her to contact her local bank to watch for any suspicious activity with her accounts, even though she had not given them any of her personal or financial information.
Unfortunately, the victim is out of the money she wired to the suspect and the additional fees she paid to wire the money.
“She had phone numbers on her caller ID, but again, those are very difficult to trace as they use prepaid phones and destroy them,” he said. “If we had been notified earlier, within an hour of the transaction, maybe it could have been stopped.”
The victim acknowledged that she had been scammed and shared her story as she would not want to see others in the same situation.
Sanders is confident that others have been swindled in Emmons County but they are embarrassed to talk about it, so many choose not to mention it to anyone or report it.
Sanders said, “Many people fall for it. Many contemplate— what if? What if I am the big winner? They do not want to pass up the opportunity even if they are suspicious.”
The scammers prey on the elderly, especially elderly women. They prey on the trustworthy and the honest. They do not find those who are suspicious and ask lots of questions easy to scam or commit fraud against. The suspects are very articulate, and they make several phone calls to convince their victims they are real.
Sanders said the first thing people should do when they receive a suspicious phone call or a piece in the mail, is to ask themselves if they in fact entered a sweepstakes.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, they have not,” Sanders said. “So, how could you have won without entering their sweepstakes?”
The next question to ask yourself is, “Is it too good to be true?”
The Sheriff said, “Most importantly, never, ever give out your financial or personal information. If they indicate they are a company that you are already doing business with, that business would already have that information on you.”
Regarding door-to-door salespeople, Sanders advises consumers to ask to see their transient merchant’s license and sales tax permit. State law requires anybody who goes door-to-door soliciting goods or services must have both. In addition, the City of Linton also requires a local permit. Linton is the only city in Emmons County that does.
“Consumers should ask to see both of those documents as they are in place to help protect the consumer,” Sanders said.
Sanders encourages people who are suspicious of any activity such as this to contact his office so they can give an opinion of whether they feel the case is legitimate.
“All we can do is advise the consumer and hope that it is not too late to stop the process,” Sanders said.