Sometimes the 'free' gift offered can turn out to be pricey.
HUBBARD -- Paula Robinson knows she's been scammed. But she's hoping her experience will be lesson for others.
"I know there's a lot of older and gullible people who could be taken in by this," she said. "I didn't think I was one of them, but I am."
Robinson received a call Dec. 29 from San Francisco-based Premier Benefits offering four movie tickets and $200 in coupons if she paid a $3.95 shipping fee by giving the firm her checking account number.
"They said I was one of the few people in Hubbard being offered this opportunity with a company that was just getting started," Robinson said. "I think I was taken in by the flattery."
She was transferred to a "supervisor" who verified the package and her account number and repeated that she had seven days to cancel.
A woman came on the line and told her that the offer was only valid if Robinson accepted long-distance service from Call One, with its $99.95 startup charge and $49.95 monthly fee, and a membership in Buyers Union, with a one-time $99.95 fee and $19.99 monthly fees.
"I told her to forget the entire thing," Robinson said.
But the woman said that Robinson needed the tracking number at the end of a recording she was about to play to cancel. Robinson was told she also had to answer "yes" to a series of questions preceding the tracking number.
She said efforts to cancel the acceptance were extremely difficult, and the charges began to hit her checking account.
"One man told me 'you've only canceled the Premier Benefits portion, not the Call One or Buyers Union,'" she said.
More than $125 in charges hit Robinson's Cortland Bank checking account Friday. The bank closed the account, established a new one and got back the money the company had withdrawn.
"It cost me $20 to stop the payments and $30 for two boxes of new checks," Robinson said.
Making a complaint
Robinson contacted the Ohio and California attorney general offices Monday and filed a complaint with the Mahoning Valley Better Business Bureau, which will forward to California.
Youngstown Police Department spokesman Lt. Robin Lees said he was unaware of complaints about this particular scam.
"We've had so many warnings out there the past six months about giving out credit cards numbers and things like that that I think it's really gone down a lot," he said.
Michelle Bole of the local BBB said Robinson's complaint is the only one received. But many times victims don't come forward if they extricate themselves from the problem.
Bole said the agency has put great emphasis on educating the public about phone and Internet scams.
"We still get some, but not as many," Bole said.
The BBB in San Francisco said that American Values out of Las Vegas, Buyers Union out of Orange, Calif., and Premier Benefits are calling consumers and offering movie tickets and other items for a $3.95 check.
The companies have poor BBB records. Premier Benefits in San Francisco tells consumers they are a BBB member and provides a bogus phone number to call and verify the membership.
Almost all complainants said they were unable to cancel memberships before membership fees were debited. Some people said they did not receive the coupons or other items.
Some complainants even received confirmation numbers for canceling their memberships, but their accounts were still hit for fees.
Not until Saturday did Robinson receive her Premier Benefits package, which contained neither movie tickets nor coupons.
"There's instructions about going to the movies, getting a receipt and sending it in," Robinson said.