They lure you in with promises of big money. However, too many local people have found out the hard way those promises can lead to heartbreak, and the loss of thousands of dollars. A Sterling Heights woman says it happened to her. She says it started with a letter about a million dollar prize.
"They called me back and said I had won this sweepstakes," said the woman who wanted to share her story, but was reluctant to share her identity.
Over three weeks, she told Local 4, she sent the scammers more than $31,000. They told her the money would be for taxes and insurance. In mid-February, while Local 4 reporter Chauncy Glover was at her home, the scammers called again! The victim allowed us to hear the conversation.
The Emotional Appeals
During this phone conversation, it was clear the con artist wanted to know why the victim hadn't made another expected payment of another $12,000. Local 4 Consumer Expert Ruth Spencer analyzed some of the statements the scammer made with retired Detroit police investigator, Tom Berry.
At one point, the woman on the phone said, "Even if the bank didn't give you the money that doesn't mean that you shouldn't, couldn't be calling me up. You do know that courtesy is key right?"
Local 4 Consumer Expert Ruth Spencer couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Courtesy is key!" she said. "This is the scammer telling the poor victim-- who she's browbeating. Remember, courtesy is key!"
"She's getting yelled at like a parent would yell at a child. We don't want to get yelled at, so she's yelling at her, in hopes she'll give her money," said retired investigator Tom Berry.
They listened as the scammer swiftly applied more pressure.
"If you're going to disappear on me, obviously, I have to report these things. What happened. Apart from that what happened yesterday?" said the scammer.
Berry recognized the ploy as a way the scammer puts the victim on the defensive once again. "Nobody wants to be reported. Whether or not you're in school, it goes on your permanent record. We don't want to be reported. I think that's what she's doing here. She's taking her back, and putting her back on her heels again," said Berry.
He also pointed out that the woman was trying to elicit some important information. "What she's trying to find out is, what this lady, has she told anybody? Has she told any of the authorities?"
The scammer also appears to try to make the victim feel guilty, when she said, "You do know that there are couriers in your area waiting on standby, and these people have families."
"These people have families. These couriers. They're waiting. You're putting them out. You're putting me out. I've been waiting for you to call. She know that this is the kind of psychological twist that's really going to push the buttons of this victim," Ruth Spencer pointed out.
While the scammer may seem more aggressive in this call, keep in mind someone had been speaking with the victim over a few weeks.Their approach may have been very different and more gentle when they were trying to convince her to send money for the first time. During this call, they may have known something had changed, as the victim had failed to make a promised payment.
Luckily for her, the bank suspected something was wrong when she tried to get more money. Then, the whole thing was revealed, and police got involved. Sadly, Sterling Heights police say the case is very difficult to investigate as the money was wired out of the country.
Here are the red flag bullet points to consider if you're approached by a con artist.
*Remember, it's just about impossible for anyone to win a prize without entering a contest. Legitimate organizations don't call you out of the blue to tell you that you've won a large sum of money.
*If someone claims that you've won money, there should be no reason to keep it a secret. If you're told to keep things a secret, you should be very, very suspicious.
*You should also not have to pay money to win money.
*Sometimes the scam artists will work in groups. They have different people calling you, pretending to be the "sweepstakes office" to make their scam seem more legitimate.
Retired investigator Tom Berry says more victims need to come forward to share their stories, so other people are aware of the scams out there.
Share this story with people in your life, especially the elderly. And, if you have older family or friends, check in with them to see what's new and if they're telling you a story that sound suspicious, ask more questions. You could stop them from making a very expensive mistake.