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Rip-Off Alert: Seniors targeted in sweepstakes scam

(News 3)
(News 3)
Reported by: Marie Mortera
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Updated: 10/25/2012 11:39 am
LAS VEGAS (KSNV MyNews3) -- A man who thought he won millions actually lost almost everything. He was a victim in a scam that targets the elderly.

Norman Breidenbaugh lost the home he shared with his wife for 22 years to foreclosure in a scam that started with a phone call.

"They told us we won a $2.5 million dollar sweepstakes,” he said.

But first, the scammer told him to send $2,000 to pay for taxes on the winnings. After he agreed, they started asking questions.

"They would get information from you and then they would turn it around and use it against you."

Like the fact that his wife, Lucinda, was in a nursing home dying of cancer.

"They would say if I just send them this money then I would get this sweepstakes and I would have the money to bring her home,” he said.

Desperate to make that happen, Breidenbaugh refinaced his house and continued to send payments as the crooks strung him along. In the end, he not only lost his wife to cancer. He also was out $400,000 and his home.

“It's really sad and disgusting that someone is taking that much from someone who has worked so hard,” said U.S. Postal Inspector Frank Schissler.

U.S. Postal Inspectors are working Breidenbaugh’s case. But the crooks are not easy to track down, and they often run their scams from outside the U.S. There are more than 60,000 cases of mail fraud every year. Investigators say it's important to look for these warning signs.

“The easiest red flag to recognize in a lottery or sweepstakes scam is if you have to send money to collect winnings it's a fraud,” Schissler said. “There is NO legitimate sweepstakes or lottery that actually asks you to send money for taxes.”

Breidenbaugh said he realizes he made a serious mistake. But he's hoping that talking about it publically will prevent someone else from becoming a victim.

“If my telling my story keeps somebody else from getting in this kind of trouble, that's all I need,” he said.

If you or a relative receives one of these lottery sweepstakes envelopes in the mail, take it to your local post office and ask to have it sent to a postal inspector.
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