Popular phone scam could cost you thousands

One man thought he'd won millions but actually lost almost everything to a scam.

After 22 years, Norman Breinbauer lost his home to foreclosure in a scam that started with a phone call

"They told us we won a 2.5 million dollar sweepstakes."

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."

Desperate to make that happen, Norman refinanced 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 was also out $400,000 and his home.

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

U.S. Postal Inspectors are working Norman'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.

Schissler says, "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. There is NO legitimate sweepstakes or lottery that actually asks you to send money for taxes."

Norman realizes he made a serious mistake.  But he's hoping that talking about it publicly 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."

If you or a relative receives one of the 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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