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Scam victim learns it doesn’t pay to win

Staff writer

When Lucille Bitner received a call that she won $1.8 million, she wanted to believe the man on the other line.

“He really made it sound legitimate,” she said. “He sounded like a really religious man, and he really was concerned for me.”

Bitner sometimes participates in surveys and contests, so hearing that she’d won a million dollar prize made her think it might be from Publishers Clearing House or another contest.

The man, who referred to himself as John Norbet, told Bitner that he needed $100 on a gift card. When she transferred that money, he demanded $600. Bitner knew something was too good to be true.

“When he was asking for a little more money, my husband said, ‘Lucille don’t do it, it’s a scam,’ ” she said. “Well, he said he was only 30 minutes down the road and he’d get it to me as soon as I’d get these cards.”

By the time Bitner hung up the phone, the scammer had convinced her to put $1,600 on gift cards.

“I thought, ‘OK, they have my money and they’ll be here in 45 minutes,’ because that’s what he said,” Bitner said. “Forty-five minutes came by and he didn’t show, so I called the police station.”

Marion police told her not to transfer any more money.

Bitner called her credit card company, who told her it might be able to get her money refunded in 45 to 90 days.

She has since sworn off participating in any contests except Publishers Clearing House, which doesn’t ask its winners for money.

“Never again will I fall for another scam,” she said.

Another struck in Hillsboro this past month, according to Hillsboro assistant police chief Jessey Hiebert.

Someone claiming to be from the sheriff’s department called a Hillsboro resident claiming that her social security number had been used in connection with multiple felonies in Texas.

The woman was told to pay for three gift cards worth $500 each, so she’d have access to money when her debit cards were “locked up in a case.”

“I was shocked,” Hiebert said. “Any time [victims thought] they were talking to the police, it’s always been ‘your grandson has been arrested and we need money for bail in the form of gift cards.’ I thought everybody knew that was a scam.”

The man who scammed Bitner called again a few days ago to ask for another $200 to “finalize” the matter, but she refused. The man said he would have to give the money to charity and would send a letter to get Bitner’s signature.

“That’s all right with me, but if you have to give it to charity, why can’t you give it to me?” Bitner said.

Bitner has yet to receive a letter.

Scammers often mask their phone numbers by changing their caller identification, Hiebert said.

“These phone applications allow you to do whatever you want to your phone number,” he said. “The caller ID is worthless.”

The victim of Hillsboro’s scammer, the first Hiebert heard of so far this year, was told her bank might refund the money.

Hiebert was skeptical that the scammer would be found.

“The sad thing is prosecution,” he said. “You’re never going to find them. All we’re doing out there is pushing paper and hoping we can make the public aware of what’s going on.”

Last modified Nov. 25, 2020

 

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