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By Caroline Downs
“I thought maybe they would give me enough information so I could catch them at their game,” Shirley Christensen said about scam artists who called her cell phone Monday with an unbelievable prize offer.
Christensen was suspicious about the call immediately because her cell phone number is not publicly listed. A man told her she had won a $950,000 cash prize and a new Mercedes-Benz.
“He gave me my choice of a black, white or gray Mercedes,” she said.
Christensen has received prize award calls in the past, but those usually involved making some type of purchase, so she played along and asked what he wanted her to buy. “He commenced to congratulate me and gave me a verification number,” she said.
In fact, he continued with instructions to call the number 1-876-325-1800 and ask for an Agent Morgan at extension 5.
Christensen followed through, still with an interest to determine the scam at work. When she called the number and extension, a second person spoke to her about purchasing a Green Dot MoneyPak card at a Wal-Mart, Walgreen’s, Radio Shack or similar store.
“He told me it would cost $3.95 for the card, and that I could use the card to send money out of the country,” said Christensen. “I was to put $499 on there and take the card home, then call back and tell them where I could meet them to get my $490,000 and new Mercedes.”
Christensen said the man asked her how long it would take for her to make the transaction, and she told him she would need at least two hours to drive to Minot and back.
She did not make the trip, of course, but exactly two hours later her cell phone rang. She did not answer.
“They made 10 calls yesterday before they decided to quit,” she said, with the final call coming at about 8 pm. Her phone recorded some of the calls as “Anonymous,” but a number was listed for the other calls.
“Then they called this morning,” she said Tuesday. “They wanted to know what had happened to me. “I told them I didn’t have enough money to put on my card. I only had $200 and I would have to work until Friday before I had enough money.”
She also asked them about taking the $499 out of her $490,000 winnings, but they told her that wasn’t possible. Instead, they would contact her Friday again with a location to meet, and they would accept whatever amount she could load onto the MoneyPak card by that time.
Christensen followed through on the request--with a call to the North Dakota Consumer Protection Division office in Bismarck.
She said she has been solicited by phone before, but always at her published, home phone number. “I thought, this scheme has a different wrinkle in it,” she said. “Usually you mail something in, but this is about meeting somebody.”
She also said she has occasionally entered sweepstakes contests, but couldn’t remember sending any entry forms lately. “Once in a while, I have bought magazines from Publisher’s Clearinghouse and then I’m entered,” she said, “but they never came knocking on my door with the flowers.”
Christensen learned the “876” area code is based in Jamaica. She noticed an accent in both men’s voices, and one of the men sounded younger than the other.
She is concerned at this point about the callers having too much information about her, with her cell phone number, her name and her zip code. “I didn’t give them my address, but maybe they don’t need that now,” she said. “Maybe you’re not as protected as you think you are.”
The North Dakota Attorney General’s office recommends individuals be concerned if someone asks you to pay for something they claim you have won; if anyone asks you to wire a payment to a foreign country; if you receive a certified check to cash in on your winnings; if you are instructed not to tell anyone about the prize; or if you did not enter a lottery, but you won.
If any of these types of prize offer notices are received by phone call, email or regular mail, the Attorney General’s office suggests consumers call the Consumer Protection Division at 701-328-3404 or toll-free 1-800-472-2600 before sending any money.
The Consumer Protection Division also recommends immediately hanging up on phone calls or deleting emails about these types of offers.
Christensen said she gets frustrated when she reads news stories about elderly individuals getting scammed out of large amounts of money or being taken advantage of in other ways by these types of criminals.
She contacted the state’s Consumer Protection office Tuesday. “At least they can alert others about what these guys are doing,” she said.