HOLIDAY — Harry Corl doesn't have a background in law enforcement. But that didn't stop him from doing some amateur detective work when telephone scammers began offering him millions in prize money — if he'd pay them a few hundred dollars up front, of course.
"I'm not a college man, but I'm not really dumb," the 86-year-old retired exterminator and hospital volunteer said.
The calls started Dec. 17 when a man who said his name was David Rose called Corl's home. He told Corl's wife that her husband had won a contest in Las Vegas and was due $1.5 million. The catch? Write a check for $299.25 and send the money through Western Union. Then the prize would be sent to Corl.
When Corl's wife told him, he knew something sinister was afoot. The retired World War II vet was in Vegas three years ago for a reunion of his Army unit, "but I didn't enter any contests."
The next day, the man called again. This time Corl answered. He engaged the mysterious caller, whom he called "foreign-sounding."
"He must have talked for about half an hour," Corl said. He said the man claimed to be from Michigan. This time, he said the prize was $5 million and the fee was $399.12.
"He was very, very insistent," said Corl, who pretended to be interested in order to get information. "I kind of talked like, 'Yeah, I'll do it, whatever.' "
The man gave him a contact number. "He did insist that I don't contact FBI; he said it kind of interrupted their business."
Corl hung up on him. About 15 minutes later, another man called and offered him a new Mercedes plus $5 million. This time he was told to send $500.
Corl was fed up. He asked the phone company about the phone number. It came back as being from Jamaica. Corl decided it was time for the professionals to take over the case.
He called the New Port Richey Police Department. Corl lives outside the city, so someone there referred him to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.
The Sheriff's Office said the matter was outside its jurisdiction and to call the FBI. So Corl called the Tampa office. They told him to call the Pasco/Hernando field office in Wesley Chapel. He did. Twice. He got an answering machine and left messages.
Meanwhile, Corl kept getting calls. On Dec. 18 he got more than 20.
On Dec. 19, another man called Corl. He said he was in Spring Hill and he wanted to "finish the transaction while in the vicinity," Corl said. He told Corl to take a check for $500 to the Western Union near a Walmart and there would be $5 million and a Mercedes in it for him.
An FBI agent returned Corl's call the following week, after the Times inquired about his complaint. That agent told him the field office can't do anything about an overseas operation, but suggested Corl send in the information anyway, so it could be forwarded to the Washington, D.C., office.
"I'll do that," he said.
The calls have tapered off now, but Corl said he was surprised that law enforcement didn't seem more interested in protecting the public from such con artists, especially when those victimized most often are the elderly.
"What are we paying them for?" he asked.
Sheriff's Office spokesman Kevin Doll said whoever Corl spoke with at his agency was correct. Unless a scam originates in the county, his agency has no authority to deal with it.
"It's out of the country, so it's federal jurisdiction," Doll said.
He said the best thing people can do is to remain aware of scams and not give out personal information to people over the phone or online.
"I get those Nigerian e-mails all the time," Doll said.