SAFFORD — Individuals who perpetrate phone money scams, victimizing the most susceptible members of society, appear to know no bounds.

Recently, an elderly Safford woman fell prey to a phone scam that bilked her out of more than $5,000 over a month-long period. When the victim began to suspect she was being hustled, the swindler went so far as to threaten to call the Federal Bureau of Investigation and claim the victim paid him to commit murder.

Officers learned of the situation after being called to do a welfare check on the victim Feb. 13. She had been at the National Bank earlier in the day, and employees called the authorities to check on her after they deemed her overly nervous.

The victim told an officer about the scam and said it began about a month prior when a man, who identified himself as "Joseph Bonner," told her she won $2 million in a sweepstakes. The man then said he would need the victim to send him some money to pay the processing fees before he could release the money. As the weeks went by, the swindler repeatedly called back several times and came up with additional fees that were necessary to transfer the prize money.

The scam is one that has been around for quite some time, and authorities remind the public that if you don't remember entering a sweepstakes, it likely is not legitimate. Additionally, there are no known sweepstakes or lotteries that require the winner to pay any type of process fee to receive the windfall.

The victim said she went to her bank after each call, withdrew the money the suspect requested and purchased a green dot re-loadable prepaid credit card. She would then return home and wait for the swindler to call back and give him the numbers off the prepaid credit card. The suspect would then transfer the balance on the card to himself.

When she eventually confronted the swindler about the scam, he threatened to tell the FBI she was sponsoring him to commit murder. The victim said "Bonner" was very convincing in his argument that she had committed felonies and that the FBI would arrest her. That is why she was so nervous in the bank when she went to get the money Feb. 13 and raised the bank employees' guard.

Tips for avoiding telemarketing fraud

It's very difficult to get your money back if you've been cheated over the telephone. Before you buy anything by telephone, remember:

• Don't buy from an unfamiliar company. Legitimate businesses understand that you want more information about their company and are happy to comply.

• Always ask for and wait until you receive written material about any charity. If you get brochures about costly investments, ask someone whose financial advice you trust to review them.

• Always check out unfamiliar companies with your local consumer protection agency, Better Business Bureau, state attorney general, the National Fraud Information Center or other watchdog groups,

• Obtain a salesperson's name, business identity, telephone number, street address, mailing address and business license before you transact business. Some con artists will give out fake information. Verify the accuracy of these items.

• Don't pay in advance for services. Pay services only after they are delivered.

• Always take your time making a decision. Legitimate companies won't pressure you to make a snap decision.

• Don't pay for a "free prize." If a caller tells you the payment is for taxes, he or she is violating federal law.

• Never respond to an offer you don't understand thoroughly.

• Never send money or give out personal information such as credit card numbers and expiration dates, bank account numbers, dates of birth or Social Security numbers to unfamiliar or unknown persons.

• Be aware that your personal information is often brokered to telemarketers through third parties.

• If you have been victimized once, be wary of persons who call offering to help you recover your losses for a fee paid in advance.

• If you have information about a fraud, report it to state, local or federal law enforcement agencies.

Source: FBI

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