he opened the letter, retiree James Thomas certainly
wanted it to be true. In black and white, the
congratulatory letter stated that he was one of
"five lucky" winners in a Publisher’s
Clearing House Sweepstakes Association lottery drawing.
His prize: $3,998,000.10.
was about a dollar short of $4 million. It sounded so
good that I almost fell for it," said Thomas, 86, a
retired federal employee. But he didn’t.
were too many red flags, including the request to keep
the prize letter "strictly confidential," the
Canadian return address and the letterhead from Barstow,
Calif. And then there was the enclosed $4,000 check, to
help cover "processing fees." Those fees,
roughly $3,000, were to be payable through a Western
Union money transfer.
Roseville, Calif., resident says he went online and
quickly pulled up scam reports listing the exact same
company name as in the letter he received.
like the one that landed in Thomas’ mailbox aren’t
anything new; nor do they show any signs of going away.
get calls like these every day," said Dwight
Johnson, spokesman for the Northeast California office
of the Better Business Bureau, which covers 24 counties
from Stockton, Calif., to the Oregon border. Johnson
said consumers have reported phony Publishers Clearing
House calls, emails and even Facebook posts.
phony sweepstakes letters prey on unsuspecting seniors
and anyone else eager to believe they’re true.
probably got a whole list of older, gullible
folks," said Thomas, who said he fears that others
might be taken in and wire money.
to law enforcement, this type of pitch usually follows a
familiar pattern. The consumer is told to deposit the
check, keep a portion for themselves, then wire the
remainder for taxes, service charges or "processing
fees." Ultimately, the check bounces and the
consumer is left responsible for the amount wired, as
well as the bounced check amount. And certainly he or
she never receives the promised "millions" in
sweepstakes prize money.
contest "winner" who is asked to wire money or
deposit an enclosed check to cover fees, taxes or other
expenses, should run, says the BBB. "If you have to
pay them first, that’s not winning," Johnson
said. "It’s a scam."
the FBI advises consumers to never send money, but
report the fraud attempt to the FBI or, if it comes by
mail, to the U.S. Postal Inspectors Service, which is
the post office’s law enforcement arm.
informed and be a skeptic, not a believer," Gina
Swankie, spokeswoman for the local FBI office in
Sacramento, Calif., said in an email. "We ask
(consumers) to simply stop communicating with the
individuals and bring us as much information as they can
to help investigate the matter," such as copies of
emails and letters.
Thomas’ case, the letterhead, from the Advance Lottery
Finance Company LLC, listed a Barstow address that, on
Google Maps, appears to show a dusty tract home
surrounded by a cyclone fence. The "claim
agent" was listed as Peter Chung, with a British
Columbia phone number.
a call to that number, a man identifying himself as
Chung refused to answer whether he was connected with
Publishers Clearing House or the "Advance Lottery
Finance Company." He repeated several times,
"Send me a copy of the letter and I’ll take a
look at it," then hung up.
its website, the legitimate Publishers Clearing House
warns consumers of phony letters that use its name,
particularly those that enclose checks like the one that
Thomas received. "If you are sent a check, told it’s
a partial prize award, and (are) asked to cash it and
send a portion back to claim the full prize award, don’t.
The check is fake, but the scam is real," the
Clearing House says its prize awards are never announced
by phone or email, but always arrive "the way you
see them" in TV commercials: unannounced and by a
team bearing balloons, champagne and flowers.
may be a cliche, but with any scam, notes the BBB’s
Johnson: "If it sounds too good to be true, it
sweepstakes letters are just one of many scams that
regularly troll for targets by phone, mail, email,
smartphones and social media. Recently, the national BBB
office released its Top 10 Scams for 2013:
Care Act scam: Calling it the "scam of the
year," the BBB said fraudsters used Obamacare
health care sign-ups to try to trick consumers into
revealing personal information used in identity theft.
Claiming to be from health care organizations or the
government, scammers tell consumers they need a new
health insurance or Medicare card. To receive it,
verification must be provided, such as credit card,
Social Security or bank account numbers.
alert scam: Targeting seniors and their caretakers, it
promises to send a "free medical alert system"
that supposedly has been paid for by family members.
Seniors are asked to "verify" their identity
by providing bank or credit card information, then start
getting charged a monthly service fee.
reseller scam: Using eBay and other online auction
sites, scammers fool sellers into shipping goods without
getting payment upfront. Claiming it’s an emergency,
such as a child’s birthday or a solider leaving for
overseas, the buyer requests same-day shipping of the
items. To further the fraud, the scammer sends a fake
email "confirming" a supposed PayPal payment.
warrant scam: Last fall, fraudsters used fake caller ID
to make incoming calls that appear to be from the local
sheriff’s office or law enforcement agency. The
"officer" claims that an arrest warrant had
been issued but a fine can be paid to avoid criminal
charges. Naturally, the "fines" can be paid
only by wire transfer or put onto a prepaid debit card.
repair scams: Often done by unlicensed or untrained
workers, the scams typically involve shoddy
repairs/improvements to areas that aren’t easily
visible: roofs, chimneys, air ducts, crawl spaces, etc.
They might solicit business door-to-door, by email,
telemarketing or even social media. To check if a home
contractor is licensed, or has a complaint history, go
to BBB.org or your state contractor licensing board.
call scam: TV show like "American Idol" and
"Project Runway" have inspired scammers to
pose as talent scouts or agents seeking actors, singers,
models, reality show contestants, etc. It can be a way
to sell acting lessons, photo services or solicit fees
for online applications or upcoming "casting
calls." And everything on the application can be
used for identity theft.
currency scam: Investing in foreign currency, such as
the Iraqi dinar, Vietnamese dong or the Egyptian pound,
is often touted as a low-risk, high-return money-maker.
In some cases, scammers even provide real currency. In
offers tied to current events, investors are promised
they’ll cash in when those foreign governments revalue
their currency. In actuality, the currency is difficult
to sell and is "extremely unlikely" to ever
significantly increase in value, the BBB says.
scams: Known as "smishing," phony texts
appearing on your smartphone are an attempt to steal
personal financial information, such as PINs or ATM
numbers. They often resemble a text alert from your
bank, asking you to confirm certain information or
"activate a debit card" by clicking on a link.
scams: The legitimate National Do Not Call Registry is a
free way to reduce annoying telemarketing calls. But
scammers, pretending to be government officials, are
calling consumers urging them to verify information, pay
a fee to sign up or disclose personal information,
including Social Security numbers.
friend scam: Ever get a "friend" request on
Facebook from somebody you already thought was your
friend? Be wary of fake profiles that can pluck details
about you, recommend "sketchy websites" that
download malware, use your account to compile
information about your friends, even impersonate a
military member or other trusted person to perpetrate a
romance scam. To stay safe: Be careful of what you share
on social media and keep your privacy settings high.
TO REPORT CONSUMER FRAUD:
Business Bureau: For details on common frauds or to file
a complaint, go to: