It appears I must put away my dream of a new Jeep Gladiator, crank up my ragged old truck and drive it into town for that overdue inspection because Manuel Franco is not going to give me $50,000.
In his text he said he would, at least someone purporting to be Manuel Franco said he would, but the good folks at the Better Business Bureau said to hold my horses, especially if I was going to spend any of that money on horses in addition to a Jeep.
“This scam involves impersonators attempting to lure in victims to steal their personal information,” said Tom Bartholomy, CEO of the BBB of the Southern Piedmont and Western North Carolina. “This is dangerous. We’ve seen this before, and it will likely continue because con artists do what works for them.”
From my experience, you are right, Tom Bartholomy, if that is your real name.
In the past, I have been contacted by deposed foreign princes sitting on billions of dollars, soldiers who have stumbled onto Saddam’s hidden treasures and exotic women looking for romance, each promising to share wealth beyond my wildest imagination or love that would curl my toes.
For a small fee up front, of course.
Manuel offered cold, hard cash over toe curling.
“I’m Mr. Manuel Franco, the Powerball winner of $768 Million in Powerball Millions Jackpot,” the text says. “I’m donating to 200 random individuals. If you get this message then your number was selected after a spin ball.”
At this point, I was trying to remember when I entered a random number into anything called a spin ball. But, sometimes I receive Amazon packages that I don’t recall ordering late at night so I read on.
“I have spread most of my wealth over a number of charities and organizations. I have voluntarily decided to donate the sum of $50,000 USD to you as one of the selected 200, to verify your winnings send a text to the agent in charge. Here is the number of the agent LUCAS ROBERTHO...”
It turns out, Lucas Robertho is not a real agent, but Manuel Franco, co-opted into this evil scheme against his will, is a real person and by all accounts a good guy.
In April 2019, the Wisconsin resident did claim a $768 million lottery jackpot. That state requires lottery winners’ names be made public. So began the trouble, Franco’s attorney said.
“That’s unfortunate because then the scammers have a face, and they use that face to then try to reel in unsuspecting people,” the attorney told WISN-TV. “He’s a charitable guy, but the people that are impersonating him, it’s maddening, it’s frustrating.”
According to the BBB news release, which unfortunately did not promise to give me any money, there’s an uptick in reports of the scam, with 188 incidents submitted to the BBB Scam Tracker from consumers across the United States since 2019.
In 2021, there have been 175 submissions to date, an increase over the previous year. Total losses reported are more than $13,000, though there are surely more who got taken in.
“It’s almost like whack-a-mole. We have alerted the FBI. We have alerted various authorities to this. We’ve done postings online that this is a scam,” Franco’s attorney told WISN.
So how can you protect yourself from this scam and others if your name is not Manuel Franco? Here are some tips:
If it sounds too good to be true, you can bet “agent” Lucas Robertho has something to do with it.
If someone promises to curl your toes, have it notarized for your protection.
If total strangers promise to send you $50,000 because your spinning balls were randomly selected, do not immediately start pricing new Jeep Gladiators or horses.
Scott Hollifield is editor and general manager of The McDowell News in Marion and a humor columnist. Email him at email@example.com.