With so many people stuck indoors a great deal of time during the brutal winter it was a busy season for phone scammers.

Late last year, a Monroe County woman received a scam phone call telling her she had won $1.1 million. In order to receive the money, the caller, who claimed he worked for the Cash Awards company in Las Vegas, said she would have to first send a prepaid money card in the amount of $375.72.

He told her that a truck would come to her house the next day to take her to the bank to claim her money. Of course there was no truck and no prize.

Also last fall, a caller told a 71-year-old Schuylkill County woman in Pine Grove that her grandson had been arrested overseas. He convinced the woman to send a money order to cover fines and costs associated with the alleged crimes. Over the following days there were additional calls asking the woman to send more money via money orders.

Scammers are even using official agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation but if you receive an email that claims to be from the FBI director or other top official, it's most likely bogus. The FBI does not send mass emails to private citizens about cyber scams.

The bold phone thieves are even taunting police. In Lackawanna County late last month, a resident of Taylor Borough received a call from a person identifying himself as Jim Phillips who told her she won a $5 million lottery prize in a "Second Chance Drawing."

She was told to call an 800 number to claim her prize. Suspicious, she notified the police. When a borough officer called the number, a man calling himself Phillips claimed the lottery system was very secure. When the officer ran an identity check, he found that "Phillips" gave a bogus date of birth and driver's license number.

After the officer called back, "Phillips" boasted that he had the best firewall in the world and that he couldn't be caught. He then taunted police to "catch me if you can."

The scammers apparently stole the authentic Pennsylvania Lottery switchboard recording for their phones to make it sound like an official call. There is a legitimate second chance drawing, but the state lottery conducts it entirely online and winners are never contacted by phone.

Always know who you're dealing with before giving out any personal information. Our best firewall is to use common sense and good judgment.

By Jim Zbick

editor@tnonline.com