Scammed, a story of fraud teaches an expensive lesson

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22 August 2012

FORT KENT– A Fort Kent woman fell victim to a sweepstakes scam and sent a total of $22,000, not counting postage, to seven states and several countries over the course of almost a year.

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Jane Smith, whose name Fiddlehead Focus changed to protect her privacy,  is an elderly woman who chose to tell her story because, she said, “I have to speak out to help those people, those victimized people, or the people in the process of being victimized.”

“Anybody in my situation, stop now,” she said. “Read carefully, read the fine print. Pay attention to beautiful words, to words like confirm, register…won, time-sensitive…quickly, immediately. You must ignore those words.”

The scam artists took advantage of the fact that Jane, who is over seventy, wanted to help her two sons, both of whom were struggling to pay their bills under the weight of medical debt and unemployment, and to help her church, which was also struggling.

Eventually, she used the blank checks the credit card company provided, and now has to pay off a credit card debt that will cost her a minimum of $600 a month for over three years to repay.

She survives on Social Security payments, which are too small to cover her debt.

Paying off that bill will require her to sell her house. Her recently deceased husband and her husband’s father built it, her sons would have inherited it, and one son had plans for it which would have benefited the community.

Neither her sons nor her brother, who recently lost their mother’s house and his business in a natural disaster, are able to help her.

She has until January to find a solution. At that point, her credit card debt will start to accrue.

“I feel sorry for the kids,” she said, tears in her eyes.

Jane is a woman of deep faith, which may help her to survive the financial and personal nightmare in which she finds herself.

She said, “I have already forgiven those devils. I’m going to let the Lord God handle this.” She spoke about her deep belief that everything turns out best with trust in the Lord.

“I was not afraid of anything [at the beginning],” she said.

She may have been acting out a belief that life should be fair, just as many believe.

“If I go see my mother once a week, go to church, help people less fortunate, love my family, pay my bills,” we think, “then nothing bad should happen to me.”

Jane said that she felt and still feels, “If I’m honest with God, my desire has to be fruitful someday.”

She understands that she has something to learn from this situation and that regardless of what has befallen her, she is growing personally and spiritually.

She spoke about how everyone needs to feel their lives have a purpose, and trying to find the money for the people she cared about provided one for her, in the moment.

“I never spent $1000 for myself [before],” she said. “I do not know what made me do this.”

For almost a year, Jane carefully sent only small amounts of money to the sweepstakes, she never participated in a lottery, and she never gave away her Social Security number or her credit card number.

Her story begins with a $5 judging fee, the minimum fee to apply for a chance to compete for the “prize money she had already won,” in a Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes in the fall of 2011.

“The next thing you know, you’re getting all this other mail,” she said. From that initial $5 entry fee, she received a letter that told her she had qualified for “the next round.”  Even after a year, the final round never came.

“I was determined to win. $2,000,000, $1,000,000 – I just didn’t want to let it go,” she said.

She added, “I wanted to be a victor, and instead, I’m victimized.”

“[The scam artists] are the devil,” she said. “They are trained in how to manipulate people’s hearts. That’s not right. I don’t know how those people can live with it, every day.”

Jane thanked the Acadia Federal Credit Union and Police Chief Kenneth Michaud for the help they’ve provided her. Her last payment to the sweepstakes was on July 27. With the credit union’s assistance, she closed her account to prevent further abuse.

Now that scammers have added her name to what is likely to be a mailing list of people susceptible to these offers, however, multiple scam artists have targeted her. She said she receives up to 30 mailings a day.

During a three-hour-long interview, her phone failed to stop ringing for less than ten minutes.

“It seems to me that I have to change my phone number,” she said.

Even though she only ever paid into the con with a personal check, her telephone number and address were written on the face of it.

The elderly woman, who lives alone, fears a visit from one of the con artists.

“If they are horrible people, they would do anything for the money. Too bad we have to live in that kind of society,” she said. “You’re not free anymore.”