HIBBING — Most everyone on the Range has received a scam call or two. The elderly especially are no strangers to getting calls from people who pretend to be nieces and nephews and grandchildren down on their luck or in jail needing bail money. The request is often: Could you wire me money through Western Union today? Many of us know to hang up the phone or contact the police. But what if the person on the other line says they’re going to show up on your doorstep?
It started out typical: an 83-year-old woman stopped into the Hibbing Daily Tribune last month with a copy of a fraudulent check and a letter from scammers posing as Publisher’s Clearing House. The letter dated May 27 indicated she had won $450,000, but before she could claim her winnings, she would need to deposit the $7,600 check, which they included to satisfy “legal and administrative fees.” It also cautioned her to keep the prize information confidential, warning: “You are precluded from discussing your win with third parties,” which, it claimed, was required by federal and state laws.
The Hibbing resident brought the check to her credit union where it was deemed an “altered/fictitious item.” After that, she brought a copy to the HDT.
The realistic looking check appeared to come from “Phillips Workplace Interiors, Inc.,” with an address in Harrisburg, Pa. When the HDT tried contacting the business on Tuesday, their automated answering service stated: “If you are calling in regards to a letter and a check that was mailed to you from Publishers Clearing House, please do not leave a message. Please proceed to destroy the check and the contents of the packet you received. Do not cash the check. It is a fraudulent check. We thank you for notifying us that you’ve received this.”
A voicemail left for the business that day was not returned by publication time.
While the HDT is contacted on a regular basis for scams, what happened next was anything but ordinary.
“They called again and this time they were going to physically come to my home today,” the Hibbing resident said in a phone call on Tuesday. “They said I won five million this time and wanted a check for $2,500 for ‘fees.’”
The man was offering to come to her house that day to pick up a check. She said she played along, acting excited, and told them she’d already been in touch with the newspaper and that she’d like him to come at the same time as a reporter for pictures. That’s when the scammer hung up.
“They’re right this moment in this community,” she said. “That was scary telling me the check was in Hibbing and saying they’d bring the check to the door.”
Hibbing Police Chief Steve Estey responded to the HDT on Wednesday morning saying scam calls are a daily occurence and there’s little the department hasn’t seen.
“We have seen examples like this where people do say they are going to show up but they actually don’t,” Estey wrote in an email. “Their hope is that people will wire the money regardless. Most times the scammers are in different countries.”
He added, “We encourage people to always call about scams so we can document it.”