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Authorities alerting residents about phone scam

SOMERSET, Pa. -- The Somerset County District Attorney's Office is alerting residents of a phone scam that has already claimed $2,000 from at least one person. The office said it is investigating and is trying to determine the people behind it.

District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser said Monday she's only been notiifed of one victim so far, but said her office has learned there could be others.

"You have won a sweepstakes and in order to secure that we send this money, you have to send us $499 to claim the prize," said Lazzari-Strasiser. 

That's the call a Somerset County woman received earlier this year when she was told she had won a sweepstakes. She followed the instructions she was given and purchased a Green Dot MoneyPak card, loaded it with $499 and used the code on the back to transfer the money.

But it's $499 that woman won't be getting back. Lazzari-Strasiser said it's all part of a scam.

"We've determined that what they do then is they take that number and they apply it to another card, so there's several transactions going on, which is making it more difficult to figure out where it's coming from," said Lazzari-Strasiser.

The cards can be purchased at many convenience stores and drugstores. They come in handy if you want to purchase something online or by phone but don't want to use your credit card. At the CVS store in Somerset, detectives found it's becoming a common trend.

"It seems to be older people coming in and they believe that at least back to two years that this has been going on," said Lazzari-Strasiser. "They come in and buy this particular card."

She urges anyone who believes he or she won a sweepstakes to never send money, but always ask questions.

"Get a return telephone call, a name of a person, maybe even acquire how they picked you," said Lazzari-Strasiser. "Then you should call either the local or state police."

A similar crime was circulating through the Saint Mary's area of Elk County last month. There, officers reminded residents that any legitimate winning never requires money to be sent prior to claiming the prize and they said any money that is sent as part of a scam cannot be recovered.

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Edgar Snyder

Washington Times