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Scam alert

Edgar Sanchez (Sacramento Bee) -- Sue Lybeck was rising from bed when the phone rang in her Roseville home.

Picking up the line in her nightgown, the retired accountant heard a woman say, "You're the lucky winner! You've won a new car and $70,000."

The cheerful caller identified herself as Jennifer, "a customs employee."

That was the beginning of a telephone con, a cruel game in which Lybeck, 77, temporarily lost $2,530 but managed to get it back.

Lybeck, not her real name, was told she had to wire that amount to Quebec, Canada, before she could receive her winnings.

"I fell for it hook, line and sinker," she said, still embarrassed over the deception.

She agreed to be interviewed on the condition that her real name not be printed.

"If my children find out that this happened to me, they'll think I'm old and decrepit and put me away in a seniors home," said Lybeck, who remains in good health.

Like many retirees, Lybeck enters a variety of mail-in contests.

One contest was a car giveaway. She filled out the entry form a few months ago, writing R-E-D for her favorite car color.

As it happened, Jennifer told Lybeck she'd won a red Intrepid. "You marked that you wanted to win a red car," Jennifer said.

"For me, that was the clincher," Lybeck said, explaining how her initial suspicions about the call melted away. "I thought, 'This has to be legitimate. How would they know I wanted a red car?' "

Either by accident or by design, Lybeck had been softened up. Then, she was pressured.

Jennifer said Lybeck's Intrepid, along with the cash, would be delivered later that day by two men who were flying in from Buffalo.

But the men would turn back, Jennifer warned, unless Lybeck immediately wired $2,400 for insurance to a "Mr. Lavary" in Quebec.

"Jennifer said Mr. Lavary had to have the money before the men took off in the plane," Lybeck recalled. Jennifer suggested the cash be sent via Western Union.

"I didn't even know where Western Union was," Lybeck said. "But Jennifer knew. She told me it was on Foothills Boulevard."

To Lybeck, something didn't make sense.

But an hour later, following Jennifer's directions, Lybeck drove to her bank, withdrew the cash, then headed to Western Union on Foothills Boulevard.

Wiring the money was a new experience for Lybeck.

"I was shocked," Lybeck said. "It cost $130 to send it. I thought it would cost $25. Boy, am I behind the times."

Back in her house, Lybeck awaited her prizes.

After a few minutes, the phone rang. It was Jennifer, wanting to know if the money had been sent.

"Yes," Lybeck said.

The conversation ended quickly, but Lybeck, as is her habit, remained on the line.

"We were just hanging up, but I don't hang up until the other caller hangs up first," Lybeck explained.

According to Lybeck, as Jennifer was putting the receiver down, Jennifer blurted in a soft voice, "How'd I do?

" The question was apparently addressed to someone a few feet from Jennifer. It renewed Lybeck's suspicions.

She waited two more hours. Her prizes did not arrive.

In the late afternoon, Lybeck called the city police.

"The lady was pretty upset when I arrived," said Officer Edward Rosenbrook, who responded.

He told her she'd probably been conned.

Despite his belief there was little he could do, Rosenbrook went the extra mile by quickly calling Western Union.

Told that Lybeck's moneygram hadn't been picked up, he put a stop-payment on it.

"She was ... lucky," Rosenbrook said.

The next morning, Lybeck returned to Western Union to recover the $2,400, plus the $130 processing fee. "I was thanking God all the way home," Lybeck said. "I just wanted to cry."

Advice "The first thing to remember is never send any money upon a request like that," said Capt. Joel Neves, Roseville police spokesman. "If somebody tells you you have to send money to collect a prize, that should be a warning that it's probably a scam."

Also, try to obtain the name, address and telephone number of the sweepstakes company. Legitimate companies don't hide that info.

Then, check out the company's name with your local police.

(c) 2001 Sacramento Bee

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