Connellsville lottery 'winner' wise to scam, calls police
A elderly Connellsville man was the target of a scam that offered him a large cash prize in a lottery he had not entered, and city police are warning residents to be on guard.
Tim Schomer said on Wednesday that he received a phone call on Tuesday afternoon from a man saying Schomer had won a New York lottery for $2.5 million.
The man, who claimed his name was James Benjamin, left a phone number of 408-274-0103, which is an area code for San Jose, Calif., and said they will deliver the prize money the next day.
“He called me about four times yesterday,” Schomer said. “He said he needed to get the paperwork right with the IRS.”
Between the phone calls to “Benjamin” and the Connellsville Police Department, Schomer learned he was the target of a lottery scam.
“I told him I didn't enter any lottery, and he asked if I shopped at Wal-Mart and mentioned some other stores. I told him I did, and he said they automatically entered me,” Schomer said. “I called Wal-Mart, and they didn't know about it.”
Bentley University professor and author Steve Weisman, founder of Scamicide.com, a website dedicated to informing the public on the dangers of scams, said Schomer was smart to call the police and Wal-Mart.
“It's difficult to win a lottery,” Weisman said. “It's impossible to win one you never entered.”
City police Detective Kenneth Jaynes said the two times of the year when scams seem to be on the rise are whenever people have a little extra income, such as income tax refund time, and in the fall, when they start to go Christmas shopping.
“People need to be on guard,” Jaynes said, adding that because of the Internet, even the slightest personal information could be enough to steal someone's identity or scam them. “Never give out any information.”
Schomer said “Benjamin” never asked for any personal information and said he would contact him on the following day.
Weisman said if the scammers don't ask for money or personal information right away, those being targeted should know that before the claimed money is said to be delivered, the scammers will call to say they need a Social Security number for tax purposes or money wired to them to help them move the process along.
Jaynes recalled a similar scam in which a resident received a phone call from someone in Las Vegas about winning a couple of million dollars and a luxury car, but a couple of hundred dollars was needed to cover taxes. After being wired the money, they then called the resident again to say they were at a local airport where there was a mix-up and they would need a couple of thousand dollars so they could deliver the car and money to the resident, who then called police.
“The bottom line is it's always a scam,” Weisman said, adding that an entity that's giving away prize money normally takes out the taxable amount. “The entity never collects anything.”
The phone lottery scam is a very common one that targets the elderly, Weisman said. The reason: Many elderly people are more trusting, he said, citing a study from The University of Iowa that reports the part of the brain that controls skepticism becomes less efficient as people age.
“So seniors are more susceptible to scams,” he said.
People need to be aware of other scams committed on the young, the old and the middle-aged, Jaynes said.
This time of year brings out groups of people who will make shoddy repairs on houses and overcharge residents and then leave the area, he said.
Even residents who do yardwork can be the victim of a robbery as one person distracts the resident while another sneaks into the house.
“Keep the doors locked and keep a lookout for strange vehicles in the neighborhood with multiple people inside,” Jaynes said.
Another scam involves a phone call from a person who says they're from a collection agency, that the victim owes money on a credit card and it needs to be paid that day or the police will be sent to their home, Jaynes said.
“The police are not collection agents,” he noted.
The next afternoon, Schomer said he received a phone call from a Jamaican number and the person on the other line asked Schomer to send them a check for $65.
Schomer, a senior citizen, said he experienced a sleepless night over the first day of phone calls.
“I told them I talked to the police and I don't want them calling me any more,” he said. “I don't know if they had my address or anything,” he said, adding he was never told how they were going to deliver the money. “This is the first time I'm afraid to unlock my door.”