An elderly Iowa woman was apparently saved from losing $1,100 after an observant grocery store clerk thought the senior citizen might be the victim of a scam.
The clerk, Paul Johnson, was working the customer service counter at a Hy-Vee supermarket in Davenport, Iowa, on Wednesday when the 87-year-old customer approached and said that she needed to wire some money, the Quad-City Times reports.
Upon placing the Western Union form on the counter, the woman commented on her eyesight and the clerk offered to help her fill out the paperwork.
When he asked to whom she was sending the money, the customer began looking in her purse for the name of the person.
"That was a red flag," Johnson told the newspaper. "If they're trying to send money to people they don't know, that's the biggest red flag."
As it turned out, the woman wasn't trying to send the $1,099 to a family member or friend. Rather, she apparently thought she was sending it to Publishers Clearing House, to pay taxes on a $100,000 prize the she was told over the phone that she'd won.
According to a police report of the incident, the woman was following directions given to her by a woman identifying herself as "Deborah Holland," who said she was calling from Publishers Clearing House, the venerable direct-marketing company that operates ongoing sweepstakes.
Johnson talked the woman out of sending the money and alerted police to the possible "granny scam," so-called because perpetrators prey on senior citizens -- frequently female -- in an attempt to defraud them.
Such crimes occur frequently, which is why Publishers Clearing House alerts consumers that participation in its sweepstakes don't require a purchase. That's true of nearly all such contests, according to the Federal Trade Commission website.
The woman, who hasn't been identified in press reports, is calling Johnson her "guardian angel," for saving her from falling victim to the scam, Quad Cities-area TV station WQAD reports.
She has since redeposited the money in her bank account and informed those who have continued to make the calls that she believes it is a scam.
Neither police nor local media have had any luck in speaking with "Deborah Holland" or anyone else answering the number that was provided to the woman as falsely representing Publishers Clearing House.
As for Johnson, he says that he didn't do anything extraordinary. "I think most of the people who work in customer service would've caught it," he told the Quad-City Times. "I'm happy she didn't send the money."
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