2017-07-13 / Columnists

Babylon News & Muse

•I recently spent a few days working to complete my family tree, and trying to find out how my family all ended up in the United States. It’s been fascinating so far, but there are still a lot of facts missing.

Of course, my mutual ancestors constitute only a portion of my family tree. We share mutual information, but I am the only one working on the Gallagher family line. I had almost no information for that side of the family until recently when I had my DNA analyzed and found numerous clues to the paternal side of my family. I am still a long way from knowing much about the Gallagher ancestors.

•Right now I am very angry at myself and a subscription service that tried to con me out of money. Something similar to this happened to me a couple of years ago, and it cost me $200. I’m going to tell you about this scam and hopefully you won’t fall for it. I was lucky this time because I caught on in just the nick of time.

The phone rang one morning, waking me from a sound sleep. A very nice woman identified herself as a representative of a publisher. I think she said Publisher’s Clearing House, but I can’t swear to that. She told me her name was Elaine.

Like so many other people, I recently entered the PCH sweepstakes, hoping to win a lot of money. I have been receiving several emails every day, each asking me to do something more to qualify for an award. Every email mentions other awards that you could win, but you have to do something else to qualify for all these awards.

I decided to ignore the many emails when this call came in this morning. I can’t quote exactly what was said, but I was told that my name had been picked as the New York State winner of a chance to win $5,000. The pleasant woman at the other end of the line told me the only thing I needed to do to enter the final round of 50 entries was to promise to renew my subscription for Reader’s Digest. I had no objection to that, as I enjoy reading the Digest each month. She told me I would have to pay $1.99 for the first payment. When I agreed, she told me that someone from her company would have to verify my entry and would call me back. After we agreed, she asked me how old I was. I told her my age (I am a senior citizen), and then we terminated the conversation.

When the verifier called me a few minutes later, she spoke hurriedly at the beginning. However, at one point I caught the name of Southern Publishers and started to listen more carefully. This woman repeated some of the things the first caller said, but when she asked for the number of my credit card so they could process the first payment, I hesitated. The “verifier” asked if there was a problem. I told her that I had no way to be sure who she was and didn’t want to give her my credit card number. She explained that they needed the card number for the first payment of $1.99. Then I caught two words I hadn’t heard before: “per week.” They were said low and fast, but I heard them and the warning bells went off in my head!

Unfortunately, like many people, I can be pretty gullible. I do think that the fact that I was thinking about the Publisher’s Clearing House contests made me fall for this in the first place.

I started to ask questions about the contest and she told me that it was Southern Publishing in Atlanta and that they were members of the Better Business Bureau. I pointed out that I thought the original caller mentioned Publisher’s Clearing House. The verifier started to sound annoyed and said the $1.99 payment was to pay for Reader’s Digest for 60 months (five years), and the other two magazines I would be selecting.

Now I am quite certain that this was the first time I had heard anything about two more magazines. At this point I had done the math and realized I would be paying more than $100 a year for Reader’s Digest, while I had only paid $15 originally for a two-year subscription.

At this point I told the woman I was not interested in any magazines. With that, the verifier told me that she would cancel the agreement and I would not be charged anything. She did not try to change my mind, but said the original caller would call me back to review the terms.

Sure enough, sweet-talking Elaine called back. I told her she had never mentioned $1.99 per week and she protested that she had. I told her I was not interested and that she should cancel the deal, as her verifier had said. Then I hung up.

I feel embarrassed to have fallen for this con. Like most people, I like to think that I have a decent amount of intelligence. Under other circumstances, I would never have mentioned to anyone that I fell for this. But their question, out of the blue, about my age, makes me think these people are scamming older citizens.

While everyone is at risk, senior citizens seem to be the preferred target of these schemes. I would much rather be seen by my readers as a dummy than to keep silent about this and have someone else be duped out of their hard-earned money, particularly another senior citizen. If this column prevents that, then I am happy to bring this scam to light. I am also going to try to contact the NY State Attorney General’s office about this, and call Publisher’s Clearing House to warn them that this group may be using their name.

In the meantime, readers should caution their older relatives and protect them from these scammers.

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