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Woman bilked in prize swindle
By RYAN DAVIS
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 29, 2000
On Wednesday morning, a 76-year-old New Port Richey woman was in disbelief when told she had won $28,000 in a national sweepstakes. But by early afternoon she was sure it was true, and she wired $1,045 to pay taxes on the award.
"I'd never won anything before," the woman said. "I thought, "Oh my, hallelujah, I finally won.' "
By 4 p.m., she was again in disbelief. Her money was gone, and neither the prize money nor the scam artists were anywhere in sight.
The woman, who spoke under the condition she not be identified, said that Wednesday was the first time she and her husband had given their credit card number over the phone. The scam artist, a woman, told her to wire the tax payment using a specific company, which would then send it to an Internal Revenue Service agent in Hollywood, Fla.
"She was so smooth and had an answer for everything we asked and did not hesitate at all," the victim said. "She was a real pro."
"Believe me, we'll never do it again," the victim said.
The Pasco County Sheriff's Office sees about two or three similar cases each year, spokesman Kevin Doll said. More cases probably go unreported because the elderly victims are often embarrassed, he said.
The victim received the initial call Wednesday morning from a woman who identified herself as Angela Stone from National Clearinghouse Sweepstakes.
"She went on to say, "I know there are a lot of things that go on in the world today that aren't legit. This is legit,' " the victim said she was told.
The victim was told that she had mailed a postcard to enter the sweepstakes in May 1999.
"Who knows whether I'd sent one or not," said the victim, who added that she periodically enters different sweepstakes.
During the initial call, the caller stayed on the phone with the victim and her husband for more than an hour explaining how the delivery of the prize money would work. The prize check would be flown that afternoon to the Clearwater/St. Petersburg Airport and would be delivered by Federal Express between 1:45 and 3:15 p.m., they were told.
The caller gave the name of a driver and his badge number and warned the woman not to let the delivery driver into the house or to sign for the package before inspecting the contents. She also told them the numbers that would be on the cashier's checks. The caller did not give the name of a bank.
As the deadline approached, the company called again to say that the driver was stuck in traffic on McMullen-Booth Road in north Pinellas.
Next they were told the driver was arriving in five minutes. He was just outside their subdivision, the caller said.
"One minute later the phone line went blank," the victim said.
The victim didn't know what to do.
She tried calling the 800 number that had been provided, but she got a recorded message telling her that "this number cannot be accessed from your area."
Then the victim tried calling directory assistance in Oklahoma City, where the caller had given her a home address.
There were no Oklahoma City phone numbers registered to Angela Stone.
The Sheriff's Office may turn over the investigation to the FBI or the Postal Service, Doll said.
"Live and learn," the victim said. "It's a hard lesson, but we'll survive."
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.