Tuesday, April 27, 2004
Carmel on the Case: Long Distance Telephone Scams
For as many ways as there are to use phones these days - there are just as many ways to get scammed using the phone. Among them lotteries. And would-be winners are finding out the "expensive" way - they can loose money - by the minute. Carmel Cafiero is On The Case.
(WSVN) -- It starts with a letter telling you you've won big in a foreign lottery.
In this case... the Thunder Ball U.K. Sweepstakes.
Allen Wells thought he was one of seventeen winners sharing more than 13-million pounds.
Wells: "It was mentioned in sterling, but with a calculator I figured it was almost $800,000 American."
But when Wells called to claim his prize... he didn't know he dialed a "pay-per-call" number.
The phone was answered somewhere outside the U.S. and the person on the other end... kept Wells talking as long as possible.
Wells: "He was asking for different numbers on the letter that he mailed me, so I stayed on the phone."
A ten to fifteen-minute call cost Wells about eighty dollars. His phone company says he's responsible for the bill.
Wells: "Eighty bucks is not a big thing to a big company like that, to me it's half my car payment."
Julie Spechler with AT&T says telephone fraud is a billion-dollar-a-year problem.
She says the letter Wells got appears to be a new face on an old trick that used an 809 area code.
Spechler: "First, it came through by leaving a message on your answering machine and on a beeper, but now it's coming through direct mail or internet."
Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist says phone scams are a constant problem... and foreign lotteries are illegal in the U.S.
Crist: "They are prolific..."
Get taken, and he says, there's not much law enforcement can do.
Crist: "Obviously, it's hard to have jurisdiction over the Dominican Republic. For example, with an 809 area code, if that's occurring, it's hard for us to trace back and have enforcement there."
I called the company that stung David Wells.
Carmel Cafiero: "I'm calling about a lottery winning."
Authorities suspect it may have sent out thousands of winning notices.
The fellow on the phone was short on specifics.
Carmel Cafiero: "How can you notify people in this country that they've won a lottery that would be illegal for them to play?"
Lottery Operator: "I'm sorry, I don't know."
He also wouldn't tell me his address.
Carmel: "I'd like to verify your existence. I want to make sure this it's not a scam."
Operator: "I guess I'll drop this line."
Wells: "If one percent of the people he sent letters to call, he can make his money and run and be gone."
Take the money and run - is the mantra for scammers who are at us from the phone to the fax machine - from the mailbox to the internet. So make sure you know who you are calling and remember - in these kinds of deals - once your money is gone - it's usually gone for good.
If there's something you think we should investigate give me a call or send me an e-mail. It could be our next case.
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