Scammers Target Wrong Person – the Sheriff


People claiming to be from Publisher’s Clearing House had their sights on what they hoped would be an unsuspecting victim early Wednesday morning – it turned out, however, the potential victim was Umatilla County Sheriff Terry Rowan.

Rowan received a phone call Wednesday morning from someone by the name of Mary Elizabeth who said she was from Publisher’s Clearing House. Rowan was initially told he had won $2.5 million.

“She spoke with an accent with broken English, and was very difficult to understand,” Rowan said. “The number she called from was from Jamaica, which I didn’t initially catch at first. Mary Elizabeth asked me how I felt about winning that much money, and what this meant to my family.”

Rowan said he knew the call was a scam right away and went along with it in order to find out as much as possible about the callers.

Rowan said the woman provided him with a claim number and followed that by asking her to call her manager to make arrangements for the delivery of the $2.5 million. She said there was some urgency, and Rowan needed to call her manager as soon as possible. She provided Rowan with a phone number and told him to give her manager the claim number.

“I attempted to call the number she provided twice, but it went directly to a very unprofessional sounding voicemail,” the sheriff said. “Moments later, Mary Elizabeth called back and said the number she provided was having difficulties receiving phone calls. She then provided me with another phone number.”

Rowan said he reached a man who called himself John Baker. He asked Rowan to provide his “claim number” so he could look Rowan up and verify his prize.

Then, things got weird.

“I gave him the claim number and he started speaking when the phone went dead,” Rowan said. “He called me back from another number and said they were having trouble with the public line. He said he was now calling from a private line. John Baker told me I was the first place winner of the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes. Initially, he said I won $550,000 and a 2016 Mercedes Benz.

“John Baker asked me how I felt about winning that much money and a new car. He then changed the amount of my prize from $550,000 to $950,000. He said it was really nice that I am from Oregon because there are no state sales taxes. When I asked, he verified that I won $950,000 and a 2016 Mercedes Benz and he added that these prizes were to be delivered within an hour.”

Rowan then asked how he would receive the winnings. John Baker told him the woman who initially called Rowan, Mary Elizabeth, was 45 minutes to an hour away from where Rowan was at. He verified Rowan’s address several times, which is the address to the Sheriff’s Office.

“He told me I would have to register my claim and show receipt to the delivery manager prior to claiming my prize,” Rowan said. “I asked him if my prize was coming via the Publisher’s Clearing House van, with the big check and balloons. He confirmed, and said my new Mercedes Benz was on a tow truck behind the van.”

John Baker asked Rowan if he was married, divorced, employed or retired. He then asked Rowan if there was a Walmart nearby.

“I said there was one just 10 minutes away,” the sheriff said. “He said that was great, and he would stay on the line while I drove to Walmart so he could verify that I paid the $499 registration fee. John Baker said it was urgent that I go to Walmart immediately and obtain the receipt for the registration fee. He said the delivery manager was nearby, but could not deliver my prizes unless I paid the registration fee and had the receipt.”
Baker then asked Rowan if he wanted a public delivery or private one.

“I told him I wanted a very public delivery, and expressed my excitement about winning,” Rowan said. “He went on to say it would be better for me if this was a private delivery because there were scammers out there who may take advantage of me, knowing I won that sum of cash. He said someone might come to my home and try to take the money. He said he would arrange for the private delivery.”
Throughout the conversation, Rowan said he asked John Baker where he was. He would initially only say that the delivery manager was nearby with Rowan’s prize. Finally, he told Rowan he was calling from the Publisher’s Clearing House claims office in Las Vegas.

That’s when Rowan let the man know who he really was.

“I informed him that sometimes I go to Las Vegas in the spring for the Western States Sheriff’s Association Conference, which is held there annually,” he said. “I explained to Mr. Baker that I am a sheriff. I told him if he checked my address, or searched the Internet, he would have learned that the address belongs to the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office, and that I am the head of the organization. I tried to get personal information from Mr. Baker and let him know that I would make every effort to locate him and his partners in crime to put a stop to their scamming. The phone went dead before he gave any information. I called his phone numbers, but, surprise, no answer.”

Rowan warned people to beware of scams such as the one he encountered on Wednesday.

“If you are notified that you have won a ‘prize’ and are asked to do anything, or pay anything to claim it, it is a scam. Please protect your personal information and do not provide the scammer with anything.”

Rowan said a tell-tale sign of a scam include a caller claiming to be from your bank and ask for your account number and Social Security number.

“Hang up and call your bank directly,” he advised. “If you receive a call from the IRS saying you owe taxes and if you refuse to pay they will come and arrest you, it is a scam. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.”

Rowan encourages people to report any suspicious calls or activity to your local police. Complaints can also be filed with the FBI, or the Oregon Attorney General’s Office.