The 81-year-old grandmother in Grandview, Idaho, was in the worst of ways. She'd taken in her 50-something daughter who was ill, the bills were stacking up, and it seemed that things were going down hill fast.
Then, the call came.
" 'You've not won the main sweepstakes,' he told me, 'But, you've won second place in the drawing,' " Pauline says. "I spoofed him off, I told him don't be stupid and was very rude. I told him, 'Nobody wins this anymore.' "
But, after talking with him for a while longer, the scammer convinced her that she was going to receive a runner-up check for $495,000 from Publisher's Clearing House. She'd only have to pay $1,900 in taxes.
"I still didn't believe him, (after he hung up)," she says. "But a little bit later, the FBI called and said I'd have to pay taxes, because the amount was too much to allow in Idaho."
While BBB takes calls weekly from residents who are told they've won the sweepstakes, it's only recently they've used impersonators calling to be from the Federal Trade Commission, FBI or IRS.
In Pauline's case, it was after the FBI call she knew the PCH Sweepstakes would be awarded. She went to her banker who said she'd been hoodwinked. By then, the damage was done.
PCH consumer affairs spokeswoman Margaret Crossan says consumers are looking for new and different ways to make ends meet and may be tempted to believe an offer they otherwise would not consider.
PCH does not call or email winners. Winning the sweepstakes odds are 1 in 1,750,000. The key to this is if you don't recall entering the sweepstakes, the odds just don't exist, she says.
"Don't believe it," she says. "At Publisher's Clearing House - as with any legitimate sweepstakes company - the winning is always free."
Scammers often advise consumers to use a money-transfer service - Western Union, GreenDot - to pay fees attached to the prize. Con artists know wire transfers are virtually impossible to trace and are like sending cash; once it's sent, it's gone.
In Pauline's case, the con artists talked her into sending almost $10,000 more for taxes, insurance, transfer fee and special handling fees. In all, she sent $11,680.
"You don't believe this (free money) stuff," she says. "But you want to so badly when you've been desperate all your life. I'm just a sucker. It was just too good to be true."
NOTE ON A FREE MOVIE EVENT
BBB is teaming up with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority to bring you the free movie, "Trick$ of the Trade: Outsmarting Investment Fraud," playing April 1, 5:30 p.m., at The Flicks, 646 Fulton Street, Boise.
"Trick$ of the Trade" is the true-life story of how fraudsters set up investment scams. You'll hear from the victims and learn how to protect your money. If you're saying you're too smart to be a victim, think again. The movie is full of victims who said the exact same thing. Join us at The Flicks on Monday for the free movie. Seating is limited, so arrive early to secure your spot.
Robb Hicken: 947-2115