Scam Alert - Fraudulent Sweepstakes

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Submitted by: Butler County Crimes Against the Elderly Task Force, Butler County Prosecutor’s Office

An alert gentleman from Hamilton recently contacted the Butler County Crimes Against the Elderly Task Force’s hotline to report receiving a suspicious check from Publisher's Clearing House.

Included with the check were instructions to call a toll-free number to verify the winnings. When the gentleman called the phone number, the person on the other end of the line advised him to deposit the check and then call back for further instructions. He was also advised to not discuss this with anyone, including his wife.

Since this man had entered the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes, his first thought was he had finally won. However, he became suspicious when he was told to keep his winnings confidential. To be safe, he looked up the phone number for Publisher's Clearing House and found it was different from the number he had been told to call. When he called the legitimate Publisher’s Clearing House phone number, he was told he had not won a sweepstakes prize.

If the intended victim had followed the instructions included with his “winnings,” he would have eventually been instructed to wire transfer a certain amount of money to the phony Publisher's Clearing House for taxes, insurance, and processing fees. He would have been informed that the remainder of the winnings were his to keep.

Had the victim followed through, within a few days his bank would have determined the check was fraudulent, making him responsible for any money he had withdrawn against the winnings (including all the taxes, insurance and fees he had wired to the phony sweepstakes company), not to mention the legal difficulties associated with cashing or depositing a bad check.

Checks like these are mailed out from a variety of fraudulent companies, all with the same goal. Unfortunately, victims are often lured in because they appear to be legitimate checks from legitimate banks (usually JPMorgan Chase because that is a name most people recognize).

Here are some tips to help you avoid becoming a victim of this type of scam:

  • Instead of calling the number given to you in the instructions, look up the company's phone number to see if the phone numbers match.
  • If you are instructed to send money to collect your winnings – especially by wire transfer – you are being sucked into a scam that will never pay off. 
  • Remember, if you have really won a sweepstakes or lottery, you will never have to pay to collect your winnings. 
  • If you really think it’s your lucky day, wait at least two weeks after depositing the check before spending any of that money.

If you receive a call, letter or knock at your door you think might be a scam:

  • Contact your local police department BEFORE you give out any personal identifying information or any financial information
  • Report the scam to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-282-0515

For more information about frauds and scams, please visit Council on Aging's Help4Seniors Resource Directory