Crime Doesn’t Pay
A woman working the cash register at a liquor store saw an opportunity to get some quick money when a customer walked up with a winning lottery ticket.
Upon seeing the prize amount, the cashier thought she could scam the man and keep the reward for herself. Unfortunately for her, she was in for a rude awakening.
Taking A Chance
A man walks into a convenience store and asks the clerk to check his lottery tickets. “Can you scan these and see if there are any winners?” he asks.
The clerk scans the ticket and freezes while she stares at the screen that shows it’s a winner. The clerk shakes her head and puts the ticket aside.
Although it may be difficult to imagine, it happens more often than we’d like to believe.
An Opportunity For Mischief
Crystelle Yvette Baton was working her shift at the Winn-Dixie liquor store on Gladiolus Drive in Fort Myers, Florida. It was business as usual, until a customer came up to the register with a winning lottery ticket, asking to cash it in.
Baton scanned it – when she saw the prize amount, she had a devious idea.
Trying To Keep A Winning Ticket
The screen on Baton’s terminal showed the ticket was worth $600. Whether it was a lapse in judgment or a regular practice, the cashier decided to scam the man out of his rightful winnings. Quietly, she pulled $5 out of her purse.
She handed it to the customer and told him that was the prize amount. The man took the money and walked out. But Baton wasn’t out of the woods yet.
While Baton gleefully pondered on what she would spend her ill-gotten gains on, she had no idea that someone had their eye on her. She carefully hid the winning ticket inside her notebook to cash in later.
How many times had she done this before? Has she gotten away with it? She never expected karma to strike with full force that day. She had just scammed the wrong man.
Betraying The Public’s Trust
“Anyone that is working in a customer service job, you think that they are doing what is in your best interest. I would be very upset if someone took that from me,” said Nadina Puzic, a customer of Winn-Dixie who was interviewed about this story by NBC2.
Indeed, that’s what any reasonable person would expect. But it doesn’t hurt to have measures in place to prevent scams.
Working To Ensure Fairness
The Lottery Commission is an organization put in place to ensure the fairness of all lottery games. One of their duties is to make sure games are being played correctly and that official sellers are operating the lottery by the rules.
They have several policies in place to keep customers safe from scams.
Technology For A Safer Lottery
The Commission has installed Express Check scanners at some retailers so customers can check their tickets themselves. There are currently 7,076 self-service validation terminals in stores all over Florida.
In 2016, the Lottery released a smartphone app so customers could instantly scan their tickets to check for winnings. But when such technology isn’t available, the Commission has some recommendations.
Common Sense Recommendations
If a customer wants to make sure they are not being scammed by retailers, the Lottery recommends listening for the winning sound on terminals and watch the monitor as their ticket is scanned – as clerks have a responsibility to keep the monitor visible.
But not all lottery buyers are aware of this, and the Commission has policies in place to address it.
Soon after getting the $5 from Crystelle Baton, the customer returned to the store. But he didn’t go back to complain – he went in to arrest her. The man was an undercover agent working with the Lottery’s security division.
He was there as part of an integrity investigation which pays random visits to retailers in order to make sure they are compliant. Baton was out of luck.
Facing Prison Time
After Baton was arrested, a search was conducted and the undercover agent’s ticket was found hidden inside a notebook that belonged to her. The cashier was then charged with larceny grand theft, which carries a penalty of up to 5 years in prison.
The next day she posted a $5,000 bond and her trial date was set for February 26. But that wasn’t the only repercussion she faced.
The Store Takes Action
Upon receiving news of the incident, a statement was released by Winn-Dixie’s Jacksonville headquarters: “We are taking this matter very seriously as the trust and safety of our customers is our highest priority.”
“The associate’s employment has been terminated.” Baton had now lost her job and was facing a potential prison sentence. But she was not without her defenders.
Friends Rush To Her Defense
A woman by the name of Amy Wetherby commented on NBC2’s online article about the incident, claiming the story was inaccurate. According to her, Baton had just started her job and did not know how to check if the ticket was a winner.
She allegedly could not open the register and told the customer to ask someone else for help. So far Wetherby’s assertions are unverified, but other users weren’t buying her story.
Looked Guilty Through Her Actions
Most online commenters agreed that Baton’s actions were suspicious, especially given that she gave the man money from her own purse. It may be true that, as Wetherby said, she had just started her job.
Her Facebook profile shows she moved to Fort Myers from North Kingstown, Rhode Island just last year. But lottery scams are too common not to think she didn’t know what she was doing.
A Common Scam
A commenter on the NBC2 website said something similar happened to his wife: “She was told she had to take a $300 winning ticket to another store because they didn’t have enough money to cash it. We were then told that the ticket had been cashed at the first store.”
They were able to confront the original clerk and she got her winnings. Another commenter weighed in with his own experience.
Tricks Of The Trade
“This is much more common than you would think…A favorite trick, pretend to throw ticket away after telling someone they did not win anything, and then when they leave, pull it out of the trash and collect,” said the WBBH reader.
He shared his advice on how to prevent this type of scam.
Always Sign Your Ticket
“I put my name on the back always, and always notice when the cashier checks the back before she determines whether it won something or not,” wrote the commenter.
In fact, this is one of the Lottery Commissions’ recommendations: “This will help prevent someone else from claiming a prize on your Florida Lottery ticket if it is lost or stolen, or if someone tries to scratch out, white out or change your signature.”
Open To Abuse
Raleigh store owner and lottery retailer Steve Byers does all he can to make sure his employees play by the rules.
“It’s something you have to keep on top of, something you have to manage because there’s a lot of money involved, a lot of possibilities for things to go wrong, a lot of temptations,” he explained. “There’s no limit to the potential of abuse that can happen with this type of thing.”
But this isn’t the only scam doing the rounds…
The Worst Call
When a grandmother in Massachusetts picked up the phone, the voice of her teenage grandson came down the line. He spoke as though he was scared of something and when he told her where he had slept the night before she went cold with fear.
She had to do something. She heard ‘car accident’ and ‘police’ and then she was out the door.
Her flesh and blood needed her help and granny was often the first port of call when he was too afraid of his parents finding out the amount of serious trouble he’d managed to get himself into.
He’d spent last night in a cold jail cell after writing off his car. There was alcohol and many bad decisions that had led Fran’s grandson to this point.
Don’t Tell Anyone!
He had begged her not to tell a soul, besides the humiliation he felt about the situation his parents would ground him for life. He clearly hadn’t even begun to figure out what story he would make up about his smashed-up car.
Fran knew she needed to get him out of jail immediately, and of course, she wouldn’t tell a soul.
Rule #1 Get A Cab
Mark passed the phone to his public defender who began to walk Fran through the steps she would need to take to get Mark out of jail. The 83-year-old Lexington woman carefully wrote down the instructions she received from the lawman.
The first one was to get a cab, so she dialed the number, her hands shaking.
Her Lucky Break
The cab pulled up to her home and she stepped in. In her rush to complete all the things she needed to do, she found herself spilling her heart out to the taxi driver. She just couldn’t bear to contain all the emotions inside her anymore.
“My grandson has had an accident,” she blurted out. “He called me, and he needs to get out of this jam.” It’s a lucky thing she did too because the story raised more questions than answers.
$4000 In Gift Cards
The cabbie asked her exactly what her grandson had asked for and she read from the list she had written down earlier. Fran had thought she was done, she had already completed the set of requirements earlier that very day, this was her second time out.
The grandson had asked her to go to a Home Depot store to buy $4,000 worth of gift cards.
A Convincing Story
The caller told the woman how to call a cab, go to the store, purchase gift cards and call back with the gift card pin numbers. “It was very convincing,” Shea recalled. “All I want to do is get him out of jail.
If they found out at school, he’d be off the hockey team. Everything would be ruined.” Fran was on her way to Walmart this time, but the cab driver took her somewhere else instead.
He Saw What Was Happening
Spencer, the man driving the cab at that time had heard about this lady before, this morning in fact. Her story matched up to the story he’d heard from his friend, and strangely that friend had been the driver who took her on the first trip to get gift cards.
She’d already spent a fortune on Home Depot gift cards and now she was going to do the same at Walmart. Spencer knew what he had to do.
That’s Not Your Grandson
“Excuse me, ma’am, but that is not your grandson,” he told the grandmother, but Fran just looked at him. How could he possibly know? But Spencer continued speaking “It’s someone posing.”
He took it upon himself to get her to the only place she needed to go – The Quincy Police Station.
The Cop Shop
Fran had been duped. At the police station, the officers confirmed that it wasn’t her grandson that had called her at all but instead a fraudster had claimed to be Mark. It is a common scam aimed directly at grandparents.
It is a simple ploy that pulls on the heartstrings: “The ‘relative’ of the grandparent explains he is in trouble and needs their grandparent to wire them funds. They would then claim that the funds will be used for bail money, lawyer’s fees, hospital bills or another fabricated expense.”
Fran could hardly believe her ears when she found out the truth and it was a mix of conflicting emotions. She was thrilled that Mark was okay but she was pretty upset at having the wool pulled over her eyes, not to even mention the money that she’d lost.
She wanted to make other seniors aware of the dangers directed right at them and in doing so, Spencer became a hero.
Rewarding A Hero
The cabbie’s actions now mean more seniors will get information about how to protect themselves. After the story went viral, Quincy Yellow Cab driver Richard Spencer was the guest of honor at the Kennedy Senior Center in Quincy.
The aim of the day that was quickly dubbed ‘Richards Day’ was to raise awareness, however, it did more than that.
Donations And Education
To praise Richard’s actions, Massachusetts credit unions donated $1,000 to the Kennedy Senior Center for educational efforts to fight senior exploitation.
“Today, this industry that’s scamming seniors, they’re making more than $40 billion dollars a year off seniors. That’s awful, isn’t it?” said Walter Laskos of the Cooperative Credit Union Association.
Even Bigger Losses
Massachusetts credit unions have started a program called Senior Safeguards to fight back against scams aimed at the elderly. And it’s sorely needed “Over a series of calls, they kept needing more money,” said Clara, a woman who just happened to be in the audience today.
She was the victim of a similar scam years ago. Her loss? “Thirty thousand dollars, but I just had to come to grips with that because it’s gone,” she said.
The program aims at making the elderly aware, firstly, that there is this situation out there. Once the word is out they offer clear, rational advice to keep yourself safe. The reason that a seemingly simple scheme works and is so effective is because it preys on emotions.
Grandparents love their grandkids, and they will do anything to help, so the program recommends slowing everything down.
Others Can Help Too
Spencer didn’t only appeal to the elderly, but to cashiers too, “Cashiers, etc: If you work in an environment that sells gift cards, take a moment to ask yourself: Does this make sense? Why would an 87-year-old individual need $4,000 in gift cards to this particular store/app? Ask questions. Sure, there may be a legitimate reason, but if you take the time and ask the questions, you just might prevent someone from falling victim.”
Which has already begun to work such as in the case of a FedEx cashier doing just that!
Spreading The Word
She explained the story about a grandmother who’d lost thousands of dollars to a scam after believing she needed to help her grandchild. “That’s when it clicked in my head,” The granny admitted.
“I realized it was a scam. Thank goodness she started asking questions.” The word is slowly getting out there thanks to people who are taking a stand.
Happy To Help
FedEx was quite pleased with the ethics of their staff, “We’re thankful our team member was able to help our customer avoid this situation,” the company said in a statement.
The “grandparent scam” has been around for a number of years, but it has grown more refined in recent years. This is mostly because so many personal details can be discovered for all to see on social media.
A Nugget Of Truth
“There is usually some nugget of truth to what people are saying to you,” said Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan. “We are seeing a lot of these cases with some substantial sums of money.”
According to the Federal Trade Commission, victim losses from these family impostor scams have resulted in more than $41 million this year. That’s a large increase from $26 million the previous year.