LAKEWOOD, Ohio — Julia Rankin takes dozens of phone calls every day as a real estate agent withBerkshire Hathaway HomeServices Lucien Realtyin Lakewood, but nothing could have prepared her for a series of calls claiming she won a $1.8M sweepstakes prize.
Rankin told News 5 the calls had her dealing with a series of impostors claiming to be everything from a U.S. Postal Service employee, a New York City law firm and even an agent with Bank of America.
Rankin said the first caller claimed he was helping her to get the prize money from “American Sweepstakes” and that she needed to contact a New York law firm that would help guide her through the legal process of getting the money from a Bank of America account.
“I could hear the buttons on the phone; he dialed Bank of America up, it literally gave the same recording that Bank of America would use,” Rankin said. “He plugged in the pin number and the account number that he gave me on his end. It then said that there was $1.8 million in escrow.”
Rankin said the series of calls was even more unnerving because they had plenty of her personal information.
“He knew my home address here in Cleveland, he knew my date of birth, he verified my email, he verified my cell phone number,” Rankin said.
But Rankin said suspicions that the offer was a scam were confirmed when the impostors told her she needed to send $18K in funds to claim her winnings to cover the cost of what they called a “certificate of ownership.”
Cleveland Better Business Director of Operations Ericka Dilworth said a sweepstakes would never ask a winner to send up-front money or attempt to make financial transactions over the phone.
“When you win money from the Ohio Lottery, they don’t ask you for money, you get the money that you’ve won, and that’s really the end of it,” Dilworth said. “So if they ask for money and it’s a sweepstakes, you know that it’s a red flag. They are just not going to ask for money when it’s a sweepstakes.”
Bank of America corporate headquarters quickly responded to our story and told News 5 it’s created a specific email address consumers can use to report suspicious phone calls from people posing as company employees.
Bank of America issued the following statement:
Bank of America also provided FAQ links below, addressing the various forms of scams and how to avoid them:
Meanwhile, Rankin, who fortunately didn’t issue any money in this case, had a message for the con artists and one final warning for consumers.
“Calling people on the phone and literally trying to scam them out of thousands of dollars, how could you live with yourself,” Rankin said. “If you have any inclination that this is a scam, keep going and keep going in collecting information, and if they ask you for money, hang up the phone.”
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