Woman falls victim to sweepstakes scam, pays hefty price

Son hopes his mother's story will save others

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The next time someone calls you, promising you millions if you just send him a few thousand dollars, hang up the phone.

"My mother was very embarrassed; she is a proud woman and can't believe she was scammed like this," said Krist, the son of a woman who became a victim of a sweepstakes scam.

Krist says his mother paid out $20,000 to crooks who promised her millions of dollars and a new car if she just sent them money.

"In the beginning of the scam they couldn't be nicer. They called my mother sweetheart and darling and were so kind. Then when the money didn't arrive they became increasingly agitated," explained Krist.

"They were very persistent in calling her and wanting her to send money," said US Postal Inspector Samantha Knoll.

But when Krist's mother eventually began sending large amounts of cash by mail, postal inspectors spotted the packages.

"I received a call from US Postal inspectors saying they had intercepted two large shipments of cash that had been sent from my mother," said Krist.

He broke the news to his mother that she had been duped.

"We closed several bank accounts, changed her home phone and cell phone numbers and had all of her mail forwarded to our box so she wouldn't be harassed by these people again," said Krist.

It was a smart thing to do because a few months later, Krist says, "Someone had tried to withdraw $20,000 from her account. Fortunately, my wife and I had closed they weren't able get to any of the funds."

Of the $20,000 Krist's mom actually sent through the mail at varying times, postal inspectors were able to retrieve about half of it.

Krist has good advice for children with older parents.

As they get older, you need to monitor their mail, you need to monitor their phone, you need to monitor their finances to make sure they aren't in a scam like this," he suggested.

Bottom line says Knoll, "Someone would go ahead and call you, and they are very aggressive. In order for you to receive a prize, or to receive cash, usually that's a scam."

BBB offers the following advice:

  • You must enter to win. Remember lottery tickets must be purchased. Sweepstakes usually involve application paperwork that you have personally completed and government grants have a thorough application process as well.
  • Never pay any money to collect supposed sweepstakes winnings. If you have to pay to collect your winnings, you're not winning — you're buying. Legitimate sweepstakes don't require you to pay "insurance," "taxes" or "shipping and handling charges" to collect your prize.
  • Never wire money. Scammers pressure people to wire money through commercial money transfer companies because wiring money is the same as sending cash. When the money's gone, there's very little chance of recovery. Likewise, resist any push from the caller to send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier. Con artists recommend these services so they can get their hands on your money before you realize you've been cheated.
  • Phone numbers can deceive. Internet technology allows con artists to disguise their area code so it looks like they're calling from your local area. But they could be calling from anywhere in the world.
  • Watch the grammar. Scam letters, faxes or emails are often full of grammatical and spelling errors.
  • Never provide personal information. Scammers can be very charming and charismatic and will lure or pressure for personal information.
  • Foreign lotteries are illegal. Beware of lottery applications or win announcements coming via telephone or mail from outside the country. Foreign lotteries violate federal law and participating in any way is illegal. The only legal lotteries in the United States are state-run.

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