MOUNT CARMEL — An elderly Mount Carmel couple was bilked out of slightly more than $36,000 over the past month in what Mount Carmel Police Department Chief Mike Campbell described as one of the most elaborate telephone sweepstakes scams he has encountered in his career.
The couple, whose names weren’t released, are ages 79 and 68. They lost their entire life savings, Campbell said.
Sometime in early October the husband received a call from a person stating he’d won second place in the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes, which allegedly included $850,000 and a 2013 Mercedes Benz valued at $98,975.
He was given instructions as to where to send money to cover the taxes for the prize money and the automobile he’d won.
On Oct. 18, he purchased three Green Dot pre-paid cards from K mart totaling just over $1,500.
On Oct. 30, he purchased five Green Dot pre-paid cards from Kroger totaling $2,500.
On Nov. 6, he withdrew $19,500 from his bank account and sent it by overnight mail express to “Chavanie Heath, 2549 Holland Avenue, Bronx, N.Y. 10467.
He also withdrew $2,500 on five separate occasions and sent it to the same address between Oct. 31 and Nov. 7.
From Nov. 7 until Nov. 13, the couple received calls from the “sweepstakes” on a daily basis, and some of the calls originated in Kingsport from (423) 398-3244 — which is a “Magic Jack” disposable cell phone.
“(The culprits) convinced them that in order to get their prizes they had to pay the taxes on everything,” Campbell said. “So they started sending in money to pay the taxes, and of course every time the victims sent money in, they (the culprits) asked for more until they just about drained them of their life savings. (The culprits) even sent them some paperwork that looked like it was from the IRS, and two times they had one female and one male actually show up at their house to collect money.”
Campbell added, “These con artists actually recruit local people to help them with their scams. They ended up signing over some pin numbers to credit cards, and gave their Social Security numbers. I’m telling you, this is one of the most elaborate scams I’ve seen.”
Campbell said the best rule of thumb to avoid being scammed is to assume anyone who calls you or contacts you claiming you’ve won a sweepstakes is a con artist.
Take that person’s name, phone number and any other information they will volunteer and contact law enforcement immediately.
Under no circumstances offer any personal information or send any money. Allow law enforcement to investigate and determine if the sweepstakes or prize is legitimate or not.
“I really feel bad for these people,” Campbell said. “They’re an older couple, they’re retired, and now they’ve lost their entire life savings. The odds that they’ll recoup any of those funds is almost nil.”