The Upshur County Sheriff's Department is the last place Thomas McRee, 77, expected to be Monday morning after Christmas. He was there to sort out the mess that has cost him more than all of his life savings.
It all began last month with a letter to his wife, Barbara, from an Australian lottery company. It said they were the lucky winners of the Oz 6/45 lottery. Their share of the winnings: $800,000.
Oz sent the McRees a check for more than $14,000 and then asked the couple to send almost that full amount back to cover insurance, taxes, and customs fees. They were given two days to reply.
The McRees sent three separate Money Grams to the company, but they found out on Christmas Eve that the check the company sent them was no good.
"I thought there was something fishy about it, but all along, I thought I was using their money they'd sent," Thomas said. "It never once occurred, 'cause the check looked official and the bank accepted it."
Thomas met with the Upshur County Sheriff, who says, unfortunately, it will be hard to track down the scam artists.
"The chances are slim anytime because it's in another country," Anthony Betterton said. "And by the time you get law enforcement involved, the company doesn't exist, it's a vacant building, they've already moved, and moved onto bigger and better things."
"I'm not happy about it," Thomas said. "It's not a really good Christmas present."
Fearing his wife could go to jail for unknowingly writing a hot check, Thomas went to his bank to ask VP Jerry Richardson for more time to raise the money. Richardson says the bank won't take any action until after the holidays, when he can call the lottery company to find out more information.
Meanwhile, the McRees will ask their family and friends to help them come up with $14,000.