It's a little suspicious when the address linked to a call notifying someone they won the Maryland Lottery is in Michigan. Or Ohio.
And Richard Drexel, who has worked in security for part of his career, is no fool. As soon as the call came in for his son, also Richard, the elder Drexel called the Maryland Lottery. No, in fact, they don't call you to notify you you've won — they have other means.
And they certainly don't ask you to pony up $150 to pay for "fees" and "taxes" before you can collect your winnings.
And the lottery would not ask for that money in the form of a Western Union money transfer. (Incidentally, the forwarding address for the money was at first in Michigan, then in Ohio, Drexel said.)
Drexel decided to string the men along a little, have a little fun, after the Mount Airy resident had called the police, of course. The men called five or six times over the course of days, desperate, it seemed, to land a fish. Drexel called me a couple of times recently to let me know how things were going.
In the middle of it all, I asked how long he'd be yanking them along.
"I don't know, I'm having fun now," Drexel said. "I'm wondering how much their phone bill is running up."
The callers had heavy accents, he said. The 876 area code the men called from is Jamaican.
When I spoke to him Tuesday, Drexel said a police officer finally called the men, and when he identified himself, the man hung up. So what did they do next? Go dark? Dump their pre-paid cell phones and disappear?
No. They called Drexel's son back, trying to convince him they weren't trying to pull off a fraud. Then they changed their story; they weren't the Maryland Lottery, but a national lottery. Not that the U.S. has a national lottery.
Not too bright. When the younger Drexel pointed that out, the con man hung up. For good this time.
This is a version of the "advance-fee" scam, in which the scammers try to get money sent by Western Union, which is fast and irreversible. Normally the criminals will say an advance is necessary to pay tax on winnings before they can be released (something they in fact told Drexel).
Drexel told me his offer of a postal money order was turned down -- the fraudsters asked for nothing that had anything to do with the U.S. government. They insisted on Western Union.
And $150 is on the low end of what con artists tend to ask for in this kind of scam. More often it's in the thousands.
"They probably would have strung us out for more if they'd got that," Drexel said.
What is worrying is that Drexel, whose cell phone plan is under his wife's name, has no idea how the younger Drexel's phone number became available to the scammers. Drexel's son hasn't posted it anywhere online.
Legitimate lottery organizations will never ask for money upfront, so there's your second clue (the first being the suspicious addresses). One of the "protect yourself from fraud" tips on the Western Union website states: Never send money to pay for taxes or fees on foreign lottery winnings — doubly so if you never entered a lottery to begin with.
They also have one excellent piece of advice when it comes to scams of all types: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.