Johnie Robbins, 86, thought it was a phone scam, but yet wanted to believe the nice man and that she may have won $3.5 million in Mega Millions. It cost her $3,000 to find out she had been duped.
Johnie Robbins was sitting in front of her computer on March 15 when the phone rang. When the 86-year-old widow answered, a woman identified herself with Mega Millions and told her congratulations.
Foooor? Well, for winning $3.5 million, a 2018 Mercedes Benz C Class 350 Series automobile, and a bonus of $350,000. She would be receiving further calls from the company as to how to receive her winnings. Smell something? Robbins did.
"I knew it was a scam," she said.
But she got all the information from them about the company, and pulled that up on her computer. Robbins may be 86, but she's more like 56. But she's also wants to believe in the best of others, which, unfortunately, is the perfect kind of victim for a scam.
The 10 pages she printed out looked legitimate. It appeared professional with a lot of legalese and no misspellings. They even got her first name spelled correctly.
Toward the back it listed past winners, and how they were licensed through the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, and the United States Department of Justice. Maybe she was a bit hasty in believing this was a scam. After all, when she asked how she won, they said it was through entering the Publishers Clearinghouse sweepstakes, which in fact, Robbins did enter.
"We want to believe it's true," said Janna Kiehl, executive director/CEO of Amarillo's Better Business Bureau.
Robbins was instructed later in the day to call a "Mr. Fisher." He couldn't have been nicer.
"I told him I was a Christian and he said he was too," she said. "I asked him what church he went to, and it wasn't Methodist, Baptist, or Church of Christ. But some church out there in San Francisco, but it eased mind. It really did."
But in gaining her confidence, our Mr. Fisher told Robbins a couple of things -- change your phone number for security reasons, and don't tell anyone yet of your good fortune yet. And over the next few days, he began to call at least twice a day that would lead up to the big payout.
Rather soon, Mr. Fisher said he would need $900 in cash mailed to an address in Corpus Christi. When she inquired as to why, well, it was lawyers and accountants fees. You know how they are.
"I can't express this enough," Kiehl said, "but any time you are asked to pay in order to win, it's a scam. But people buy into it, thinking it's a small price to pay to win a big prize. Any time you have to send them money, hang up, it's a scam."
Robbins borrowed the money from a son, not telling him the reason. "That was really smart of me, wasn't it?" she said.
In the interim, Mr. Fisher told Robbins they would like to pay off all debt on her credit cards, but, of course, they needed her companies and card numbers. She gave them the info on two cards from Chase, one from Bank of America, and another from Wells Fargo. When she asked Mr. Fisher the next day why the balances were still there, he told her these take an extra day or two.
"They just kept needing money," she said, "and I didn't have it. And the thing is, I didn't need $3.5 million. What am I going to do with all that?"
The last straw was when kind Mr. Fisher said he needed money for three phones at Wal-Mart. Robbins thought that was mighty fishy, but maybe she didn't really understand him.
"He talked what I'd called 'Californian,'" she said. "I said, 'You talk fast, but I listen slow.' But I thought what could three phones cost?"
When she told the clerk at Wal-Mart the kind of phone she needed, she was told it would be $700 -- apiece.
"I thought, 'Oh my gosh,'" she said. "But I asked for them. I'm vain. I don't want anyone to think I'm going back on what I said. So I charged them and over-nighted them to an address in Florida."
That night, March 21, Robbins woke up and knew she had been had -- to the tune of $3,000. There was no money coming.
"I thought, 'Oh my gosh, what have I done?'" she said.
Just one of many phone scam victims, but Robbins bravely wanted to tell her story as a cautionary tale to others. It happens a lot, to people of all ages. Kiehl said Robbins, who changed her credit card numbers the next day, actually got off cheap. A Borger family lost $47,000. A man in Amarillo lost more than $30,000. I did a story on an Amarillo widow, 84, in 2014 who lost her life savings of $33,000.
More than 103,000 phone scams nationally have been reported to the Better Business Bureau. In the Panhandle, 347 have been reported, 240 in Amarillo and Canyon since 2016. The sharks are always circling, Kiehl said, nearly all of them outside the country where getting swindled money back is next to impossible.
"Bottom line, where is your money going?" Kiehl said. "What are you buying? You're buying a tough lesson on your end."
That lesson, as Johnie Robbins and others now jknow well, the next time someone says you have "won" a major contest, but first need some money, the only thing they need to hear next is...
Jon Mark Beilue is an AGN Media columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 806-345-3318. Twitter: @jonmarkbeilue.