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PCH scam hits area

WORTHINGTON -- Ring, ring. Ring, ring.

Heading out the door on her way to work, a woman picked up the phone without checking the caller ID and heard, "You've just won the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes."

As it turns out, she hadn't "just won" anything, but the call sure got her attention.

The caller made plans to meet the woman at her home after work, but because the whole thing seemed fishy, she called her father.

"It's odd," her father later told the Daily Globe. "They had her phone number, address, everything."

That afternoon, she got another call.

"They called and said they couldn't make it," her father said. "They said to wire money to cover the taxes instead."

The woman wisely declined to do so.

Scams involving fake lottery winners have been around for quite some time, and continue to evolve and change as technology evolves and changes. The best rule to live by is one often quoted: "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Attorney Generals' offices, the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Bureau of Investigation -- each is contacted regularly by consumers who have been the victim of a scam or a scheme.

It isn't just a national problem. It happens here, too.

"Local law enforcement receives scam and fraud complaints daily," stated Worthington Police Det. Sgt. Kevin Flynn in a recent email. "Criminals are using these means to take advantage of people, often elderly, on a regular basis."

The grandparent scam -- when a person receives a call from a "grandchild" stating they are in trouble and need financial help -- is common, especially around school holidays.

Lately, there have been calls about "mystery shoppers."

The potential victim is asked to answer questions about money wiring service availability.

"If it sounds too good to be true, it's likely a scam. If a person is being pressured to make a decision involving money at a moment's notice, there's a catch," Flynn stated. "Once the money is sent, wired, mailed, etc., it's not likely to be recovered."

Publishers Clearing House scams have been around almost as long as Publishers Clearing House.

The PCH website has considerable information about fraud prevention and consumer alerts.

"If you are contacted by anyone claiming to represent Publishers Clearing House and they request payment of any amount to collect a prize, do not send any money. You have not heard from the real Publishers Clearing House," said Christopher Irving, senior director of consumer affairs for PCH. "We want you to know that you never have to pay any amount to claim a prize with the real PCH. At Publishers Clearing House, the winning is always free."

According to the PCH website, consumers who win prizes of $10,000 or more are notified in person by the famous PCH Prize Patrol. They do not notify people by phone or by email.

They never charge a fee, whether it is for taxes, customs or security.

"If you're asked to send money to pre-pay taxes, pay a legal fee or pay any kind of fee to claim a sweepstakes prize, stop!" the PHC fraud prevention website states. "You have not heard from a legitimate sweepstake company. No legitimate company will ever ask you to pay or send money to claim a prize. It's prohibited and unlawful."

If in doubt, the site suggests, contact the Better Business Bureau.

Two recent entries on the BBB site regarding scams read as follows:

* A consumer contacted the BBB to say they had received a phone call from the Publishers Clearing House in the District of Columbia. The caller informed them they had won $450,000 and they would only need to pay $4,500 to insure their winnings.

They were even given an official-sounding Security Code to claim their winnings - 317PC304.

NOTE: This, of course, was a scam. The consumer suspected, but called us just to be sure.

After we reassured them the offer was fraudulent, they called us back soon afterward to say the scammers had called them again.

After the consumer informed them they had talked to the BBB and we said the offer was a scam, the caller said, "Have a nice life!" and hung up. Which we thought, all things considered, was very nice of them.

* A consumer mailed us a letter they had received informing them they were the grand prize winner of the very official-sounding "American family publishing sweepstakes drawing," which entitled them to the sum of $450,000.

A check in the amount of $4,870 had also been enclosed to cover taxes on their winnings. Strangely, though the letter was written on the stationery of a company in Canada (red flag alert!), the check was made out from a healthcare company in the United States.

NOTE: Yup: Scam, scam, scam, scam! None of this makes a bit of a sense: not the uncapitalized words in the title of the "sweepstakes," not the involvement of a U.S. healthcare company and certainly not the helpful check to assist the lucky winner with paying taxes on their "winnings."

Like we always say; if you're told you have to pay taxes or fees to claim your winnings, you haven't won anything!

If the consumer had followed through on this, they would have quickly discovered the check they received was no good and they would be out any money they had wired back to the scammers.

You should never wire money to people you don't know.