Scam targets local Readers Digest subscriber

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Mary Ann Martin demonstrates how she uses the ‘Dog Off’ alarm to discourage scammers who called almost incessantly over a two-day period.

Mary Ann Martin demonstrates how she uses the ‘Dog Off’ alarm to discourage scammers who called almost incessantly over a two-day period.

Special to the County Compass

REELSBORO – The call Sunday night was a surprise, of course. Winning $100,000 in the Publishers’ Clearing House Sweepstakes seemed almost too good to be true – and it was, as Mary Ann Martin came to realize late the next day.

When she first picked up the phone, Martin noted the Caller ID showed ‘Better Business Bureau.’ And, the caller, who identified herself as Rose Newenski from New York City, was cheerful, polite, and unfailingly helpful.

“She told me ‘You better wear something nice and pretty when they come knocking on your door,’” recalled Martin. “Then she added ‘Hey Doll. You gotta dress up nice because you’re going to be in pictures.’”

Perhaps a big win was indeed possible, Martin thought. After all, she was a Readers Digest subscriber. And, she had previously entered the Sweepstakes.

There were a handful of calls that night. A bit odd, but there were apparently some loose ends.

Newenski said there had been a mix-up. Seems Martin was a winner from January 2010 who had somehow been overlooked. But, that was OK because the folks at PCH were going to make it right.

In addition to the cashier’s check that would be arriving soon, Martin had also won a new car. And, 30 days of free gas. And, free automobile insurance for a year, offered by a national insurance company. The only thing she had to do would be to mail a money order for $2,400 – to cover taxes on the car. The mailing address was 99 Broadway in New York City, but it had to get there fast.

“When I went to bed Sunday night, I was ready to get up Monday morning and send them the money,” said Martin. “But then I thought to myself, should I really do this?”

By Monday afternoon, the calls from ‘Newenski’ and others were almost non-stop. “I guess I got more than 20 calls from those folks,” said Martin.

“They were stubborn,” said Martin, shaking her head the next day. “They figured that they were just going to wear me down.”

Toward the end, Martin resorted to a shrill, high-pitched, battery operated alarm, designed to ward off vicious dogs. Perhaps it might also work on brazen scammers. More than once she held the device up to the handset of the telephone and pushed the button.

Eventually it was the would-be con artists who knuckled under.

“I asked them a whole bunch of questions,” said Martin. “They eventually referred me to what they said was their fraud department. But, when I asked that guy for his phone number, he hung up on me.”

Martin reported the scam to local law enforcement. She also called Readers Digest and Publishers Clearing House – both entities confirmed that the calls, and the promised winnings, were indeed hoaxes.

“I really think the big companies need to investigate these scams,” said Martin. “I almost sent in the money. Times are hard, especially for older people, who might do this and become a victim.”