Local News

Harnett County Woman Caught Up In Sweepstakes Scam

Posted August 25, 2005

— Most everyone dreams of having extra money to spend. When an elderly Harnett County woman finally thought Lady Luck had paid her a visit, she ended up in the middle of a scam sweeping across North Carolina.

Frances Pritchard, 87, thought her purchase of a new mattress and box spring was legitimate.

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  • But about a month ago, she got a sweepstakes letter in the mail.

    She sent $20 to the company, hoping to win big.

    "I was pressed for money and thought, well, maybe one time in my life, I'll be lucky," Pritchard said.

    The company then sent her a cashier's check for $2 million. Pritchard was suspicious and threw it away.

    When another check for more than $4,500 came a few weeks later, Pritchard said she had second thoughts.

    "I thought, 'Well, maybe it's reliable,'" she said. So, she cashed the check at Rick's Pawn Shop in Dunn.

    Brian Ausley, an employee at Rick's, said the check looked real.

    "It had the watermarks," Ausley said. "Everything looked authentic about it."

    A few days later, however, the bank informed Ausley that it was actually counterfeit.

    "(I was) very disappointed," Ausley said. "We are here to make an honest living and people out there just don't care. They'll steal your money and they really don't care about you."

    By then, Pritchard's family had spent the money on bedding, bills and groceries.

    The scam asks people to cash the check and send the money back in to pay for the tax on their winnings.

    In Pritchard's case, that did not happen. But police say it happens enough to make the checks' senders rich.

    "As long as they have a certain number of people, that feeds their greed," said Dunn Police Chief Tim Benware.

    Benware said that while Pritchard only lost $20 of her own money, she is still a victim, as is the pawn shop.

    "If (Ausley) takes her to small claims court, or however things work out, she may still potentially have to pay that money back somehow." Benware said.

    The thought of having to pay back $4,500 brings Pritchard restless nights on her new bed. She says she now realizes she will not be getting rich quick from anything she gets in the mail.

    "I got six of them yesterday and I tore them up and put them in the trash," she said.

    Dunn police are not leaning toward charges against Pritchard. They believe she legitimately thought it was her money to spend.

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