Surgoinsville Police Department

SURGOINSVILLE — A 70-year-old Hawkins County woman told Surgoinsville police on Monday she was scammed out of $500 by a couple claiming over the phone that she’d won a Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes.

The woman told Surgoinsville Police Department Chief James Hammonds she received a telephone call on Sunday from a man and a woman who claimed she’d won $2 million and a new Mercedes from Publishers Clearing House.

The victim was told that in order to collect her prizes she needed to purchase a $500 Visa gift card, and then send them a photo of the front and back of the card so they could begin delivery of the car.

She did as she was told, but then she was told to open a new checking account so they could deposit her winnings, at which time the woman became suspicious.

“They actually told her to open an account at the credit union on AFG Road, and when she told them it wasn’t open they gave her the address of another bank to try, but that turned out to be her home address,” Hammonds said. “She (the victim) was on the phone with them when I got there. She (the female scammer) had a foreign accent, and she wasn’t very polite when she found out she was talking to a police officer. I traced the phone number to the Bahamas.”

Hammonds noted that the $500 transaction went through from the debit card the victim purchased, but he helped the victim dispute the transaction with Visa.

“It just went through today, so hopefully we stopped it in time and she can get her money back,” Hammonds added.

This was the second weekend in a row that Hammonds received a Publishers Clearing House scam complaint.

A man who received a call last weekend became suspicious before any of his money was lost.

“Members of law enforcement try to spread awareness about these scams, but unfortunately people still fall for them,” Hammonds said. “A good rule of thumb is, if they’re asking you to give money in order to collect your prize, it’s a scam.”

Sandra Bernard, who resides in the Beech Creek community of Hawkins County, told the Times News on Monday that the frequency of scam calls is increasing drastically, especially this past weekend when it seemed like she was being called every five minutes.

Bernard has heard all the most common scam attempts, including the Publishers Clearing House scam, supplemental social security insurance, your Amazon account has been hacked, your Cloud account has been hacked, consolidate your credit card debt, pay money or you’ll be served with an arrest warrant, and your vehicle warranty has expired.

Bernard said the federal government needs to crack down on these scammers not only because of the lost money, but the potential danger to seniors by tying up their phones.

“I would get two to four per day usually, but then starting Friday they just kept going every five minutes,” Bernard said. “Then I talked to my brother-in-law, and he said they were coming all day. I know he calls his doctor and tries to get call-backs, and I’m thinking, this is a health hazard. They’re preventing him from being able to communicate with his doctors. That’s going to put a lot of people in danger if their phone is occupied.”