“Hello, congratulations! You have just won $5,000 with Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes.”
Great news, right?
However, for one couple in Buffalo, those words are not music to their ears. John and Betty Cooney have been receiving numerous phone calls from a man claiming to be with Publishers Clearing House. The individual has identified himself as “Robert Hill.”
The Cooneys said “Hill” told them that all they had to do to claim their prize was to send him a Western Union check for $200 to cover the taxes and he would send them a prize check. The Cooneys said they knew right away this was a scam and tried to kindly tell him they could not send him the money. That hasn’t stopped “Hill” from calling several more times trying to convince them to send him money.
Publisher’s Clearing House warns consumers against scams on its website. Scammers may target victims by mail, telephone, Internet, email and Facebook. Whatever the method of contact, their main goal is to deceive you into believing you’ve won a prize award and need to send a pre-payment to claim that prize.
Legitimate sweepstakes are free and no purchase is necessary to enter or win a prize, according to PCH.com.
Scams can be costly unless you know the danger signs.
1. If someone gives you a check or money order and asks you to send money somewhere in return, it’s a scam. That is not how legitimate sweepstakes operators or other companies operate. If you have really won, you will pay taxes directly to the government.
2. A familiar name doesn’t guarantee that it’s legitimate. Crooks often pretend to be from well-known companies to gain people’s trust. Find the company’s contact information independently, online or through directory assistance, and contact it yourself to verify the information.
3. The check or money order may be fake even if your bank or credit union lets you have the cash. You have the right to get the cash quickly, usually within 1-2 days, but your bank or credit union can’t tell if there is a problem with the check or money order until it has gone through the system to the person or company that supposedly issued it. That can take weeks. By the time the fraud is discovered, the crook has pocketed the cash.
4. When the check or money order bounces, you will have to pay the money back to your bank or credit union. You are responsible because you are in the best position to know if the person who gave it to you is trustworthy. If you don’t pay the money back, your account could be frozen or closed, and you could be sued. Some victims are even charged with fraud.
5. Sending money using a money transfer service is like sending cash – once the crook picks it up you can’t get it back from the service. If the money has not been picked up yet, you may be able to stop the transaction. Contact the money transfer service immediately if you think you’ve been scammed.
Want to learn more? Visit www.consumerfed.org/fakecheckscams to read Consumer Federation of America’s Don’t Become a Target brochure, watch the funny videos about sweepstakes/lottery and check out the other materials on the Web site. Visit National Consumers League’s www.fakechecks.org, where you can take a quiz to see how well you can spot this fraud, send an ecard to warn other people, and find information to help you and people you care about avoid losing money to scams.
To report possible fraud go to the NCL’s www.fraud.org and fill out their Online Incident Report Form or write to NCL’s Fraud.org, c/o National Consumers League, 1701 K Street, NW, Suite 1200, Washington, DC 20006.