Consumer Watch: Phone Scam Targets Elderly, Costs Thousands

Wednesday, July 13th 2011, 5:23 pm
By: News 9

Amanda Taylor, News 9

OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma -- Frances Woodruff's phone rings off the hook. But the person on the line doesn't want to chat. He wants money. The caller claims it's to pay taxes for Woodruff's multi-million dollar sweepstakes winnings.

"Wow! Wow! Just think of all the good things I can do," Woodruff thought when she answered the phone.

A few hundred dollars in exchange for $11 million sounded like a good deal to Woodruff, so she wired the money to South Carolina.

But then the phone rang again.

"They need some more. And they call me again and need some more," Woodruff said.

So Frances sent more money. In one month, her life savings of $23,000 was gone.

"This is foolish. Everything's going out and nothing's coming in," Woodruff said. "And one excuse after another, they haven't made a delivery."

Bob Manista with the Better Business Bureau said con artists reel us in by convincing us we got lucky. And most victims are the elderly.

"They get the emotions riding high," Manista said. "People shut off their brains. Before they know it, they're writing checks or giving out credit card numbers that they shouldn't."

Manista said the best defense; have a family member or friend look after senior citizens. And the warning signs often start at home.

"Piles of delivery boxes. Piles of Fed Ex envelopes. Piles of communication you just wouldn't ordinarily see," Manista said.

Since most of these scammers are mobile or out of the country, it's next to impossible to catch them. So it's up to us to be vigilant.

"It's never going to go away until everyone wises up and understands there are no free lunches out there," Manista said.

Some red flags you didn't hit the jackpot and the so-called sweepstakes is a scam:

If they ask for fees up front for a prize you've won. It's actually illegal to do that.

Paying the "fees" to an individual.

Sending money through a wire transfer, which is untraceable.

And when the caller or address is out of the country.

To not fall victim, we need to check on our older relatives and neighbors.

It's a good idea for someone they trust to have access to their financial accounts to monitor any suspicious transactions.

Also check phone bills for international or other unusual calls.

Or just have a regular relationship. If they think they won something, they'll tell you.