WHITSETT, N.C.--An elderly woman is reeling from what she calls the biggest mistake of her life.

74-year-old Hilda Stead lost $55,000 of her life savings in a phone scam.

It all started with a call from a number she didn't recognize.

"He said well you're a winner. And I had won $1.3 million and a new Mercedes," Stead said.

The caller said he was with Publishers Clearing House and that Stead was a big winner.

"I said I don't want people to know that I've won because I'm a Christian. I would like to give it to missionaries. I would like to help out people that need it," Stead said.

That was just what the scammer wanted to hear.

"He told me I needed to pay a fee upfront for the IRS." Stead said.

She paid the crook in four installments adding up to just over $55,000.

"First is was 11,000. Then it was 12,000, then 40,000, and 2,000," Stead explained.

It could have been more if Stead's friend Robin Balderson hadn't step in.

"He told her she needed to pay another $800. Well, I knew at that point it was a scam," Stead said.

Balderson knew Publishers Clearing House didn't call winners or ask for money before handing out prizes. Deep down, Stead knew too, but she still fell for the scam.

"It's my loss not anybody else's but I don't want anybody else to lose their life savings the way I did," Stead.

Stead says she wants her story to serve as a lesson, especially for people around her age.

A gofundme has been set up to help.

Here are some other signs of a scam to keep in mind:

  • You're told you must wire money.
  • You have to deposit a check they've sent you.
  • The person on the line claims they're from the government or another organization, asking for money in the form of prepaid cards.