When a Payson woman received a phone call last week informing her she had won $250,000 in a sweepstakes, her reaction was predictable.
"The man identified himself as James Taylor and asked if he could come to Payson on April 5 to give me a check," said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous. "I told him, 'Sure.'"
Then he told her she would need to pay an excise duty of $6,800. Up front. In a certified cashier's check. Made out not to Consumer Awards Center, the company Taylor was supposedly representing, but to one Brenda Winthrop, whom Taylor identified as the company's corporate attorney.
Taking that as a red flag, the woman stalled.
"I told him I couldn't come up with that kind of money on short notice," she said. "He asked me about credit cards, and I said they were maxed out.
"Then he said the company could offer some financial assistance if I could just come up with one-third of the money or $2,270. When I said, 'No,' he asked for $1,500."
By then, she said, she knew something was seriously amiss. When she told Taylor she wouldn't know until she contacted her bank, he promised to call back Monday afternoon.
That gave the woman some time to check things out. She called Jennifer Wegner at the local office of National Bank of Arizona, who in turn contacted the bank's security department in Phoenix.
A man from the security department called the woman back and informed her that it was, indeed, a scam, and that Native Americans and the elderly were the most common victims.
Wegner also faxed her a copy of an alert put out by the federal government's Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
In part, it said:
"Information has been received from Canadian and U.S. authorities of a scheme to steal money from people ... operating primarily out of Montreal, Canada. The scheme takes several variations, all of which supposedly relate to lottery winnings, misdirected payments, or recently discovered records of undistributed winnings from Canadian lotteries.
"The basic scheme starts when the victim fills out a sweepstakes coupon for the Canadian lottery. The victims are then contacted and told that they have won several thousand dollars.
"Other contacts may tell them that they will receive a large payment due to some type of error, fraudulent activity, or mistake at the lottery headquarters. To receive the payment, the victim will usually be asked to send money in advance to pay taxes or other fees."
When Taylor called back Monday afternoon, he had changed his name to James McBride, the local woman said. She told him she had been informed by both U.S. and Canadian authorities that any tax monies due could be deducted from the prize check.
Taylor promised to fax her proof on Tuesday that the information was wrong. As of press time, he had not done so.
In the meantime, the local woman did some more checking.
According to a Web site called the Canadian Consumer Connection, the scheme is fraudulent.
She also reported the incident to the Payson Police Department. The department's officers will be notified about the scam, police Lt. Don Engler said. For now, the woman said, that's enough.
"We have Native Americans and we have elderly in this area, so people need to know," she said.