FLORENCE, S.C. – Debbie Hill has worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 29 years.
Through her years working at the Florence Post Office on Second Loop Road, she has formed a relationship with customers, especially the regulars.
“I know a lot of my customers,” Hill said. “I’ve watched parents become grandparents. I’ve watched the generations come up.”
So when one of her regular customers came in on multiple occasions to send packages to random locations through Express mail, Hill said, she knew something was up. She called Thomas Gasser, a U.S. Postal Service inspector, and asked that he check it out.
“She came in too often. It was just totally out of character for her,” Hill said. “I told him, ‘Check it out. If it’s nothing, that’s fine.”
As it turns out, it was something. And it was Hill’s quick, instinctual reaction that ultimately saved the woman from sending nearly $45,000 to an overseas scam artist.
Gasser, who works in Charleston but covers the Pee Dee area, said scams happen “far more often than we would like.”
In 2014 alone, inspectors seized and destroyed 1.6 million fraudulent foreign lottery mailings at U.S. borders, preventing thousands of American customers from becoming victims of fraud, according to a report done by the postal service.
Scam artists often target older people, particularly those who have recently lost a spouse or have other vulnerabilities, Gasser said.
“People are trying to rip the elderly folks off and convince them of many things,” he said. “Maybe they’ve won the lottery, maybe someone is hurt and needs money … anything they can do to try and get money out of these folks.”
When Hill reached out to him, Gasser worked with local law enforcement and was able to prevent the money from being sent.
He credits Hill for saving the money and alerting the family.
“It goes beyond just being a person at the counter taking the money, taking the mail,” he said. “She knows her customers. She’s a part of the community. She knew the person, and she knew something wasn’t right.”
For Hill, it was simply part of the job.
But despite her humility, Hill will be honored with a letter of commendation from the postmaster general, an award that was given to just 262 U.S. Postal Service workers in 2013.
A highly experienced postal employee is worth a lot to the community, said Harry Spratlin, the postal service's South Carolina communications director.
Hill is one of those employees, Spratlin said. He added that he has gotten to know Hill well through frequent visits to the Pee Dee over the years.
“Debbie is really very efficient and a highly proficient retail associate at the Florence Post Office,” he said. “She’s been there 29 years. She knows her customers well, and she does everything she can to help out.”
Out of this story, Hill said, she hopes to raise awareness and prevent more scams from happening.
“There are a lot of scams out there, so the public really needs to know about it,” she said.
Children and grandchildren are advised to pay attention to their parents and grandparents and be on the lookout for atypical behavior, Gasser said.
Watch out for Western Union receipts, packages mailed through Express mail and withdrawals from the bank. Visit with elderly family members and ask questions if something seems suspicious.
It all comes down to interaction, he said. If something seems off, tell someone immediately.
“Because she told me right away, I was able to intercept the money that she was about to send out, and we got it back to the family,” Gasser said. “If you’re suspicious, the sooner you could tell somebody the better.”