When Linda Moody won Publisher’s Clearing House’s $1 million prize, she wasn’t all that excited. A “John Church” called her from a Montgomery area code, and told her that he was from the Publisher’s Clearing House Prize Patrol, and that she’d won their huge prize.
The only thing was that some of her information didn’t appear to be current. But the caller said that if she had any doubts about the veracity of the winnings, she could call his boss, who had a phone number with a Las Vegas area code.
At first, “Church” told her that there wouldn’t be any fees, but under her questioning, he eventually divulged that there was a $299 “registration fee,” and that an “Internal Revenue Service representative” would be there to collect the taxes upon her presentation of the prize.
She told the man that she didn’t have the money, which was apparently not a problem. Church told her she could use a credit or debit card to pay it off, and then reimburse herself with the winnings once she received them. What was there to lose?
“I played along with him because I hoped I could get him to show up and the police could arrest him”, said the 70-year-old, who had spent years working in a security business with her husband, retired Montgomery police officer Stewart Moody.
Moody called the Publisher’s Clearing House just to be sure, and the company confirmed that “Church” was indeed a con. The scam usually works by having the victim first send a registration fee through Western Union, or another company that can transfer funds. Then, the con artist presents the “winner” with a large check, but requires an additional fee, or has a confederate there to pose as an IRS agent to take tax money. Naturally, when the victim goes to deposit the check, it bounces.
“It just made me angry because I knew that some elderly people would fall for it,” said Moody.
Unfortunately, elderly people do indeed fall for such scams. A lottery-sweepstakes scam recently bilked a woman in New York state out of $4,000. She’d received a letter from “American Mega Country Payment,” which told her that she’d won between $250,000 and $5 million in lotteries and sweepstakes. To claim her prizes, she just had to wire money via Western Union. She did receive a check in return, which bounced.
The key to differentiating a sweepstakes and a scam is in the notification. First, if it asks for money, it’s fake. A real sweepstakes won’t cost the participant anything. Often times, contests ask audiences to submit photos, videos, or essays about the brand, products or services, which can then be used as advertising, but never money. Secondly, if it’s an email, it’s a scam. Publishers Clearing House never notifies winners by email.
If you receive a notification like this, notify your local law enforcement. Otherwise, “clearing house” con artists will clear out people’s savings.