Telephone Scam Alert – Publisher’s Clearing House Winner

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05/29/2013

Incident:  Telephone Scam Alert – Publisher’s Clearing House Winner

Contact:Commander Darin Schindler, 805-339-4341

Location:  City of Ventura

Date of Release:  May 29, 2013

Narrative:

Over the last month the Ventura Police Department (VPD) has received a number of calls from alert citizens regarding an individual(s) calling to inform them they have won millions of dollars through the Publisher’s Clearing House (PCH) Sweepstakes.  To date we have taken one report of two individuals having fallen victim and sending over $4500 in an effort to “claim” their prize.   We want to advise anyone who receives a phone call from someone claiming to be with PCH (or any other similar type of organization) to please use caution and do not send any money or provide any personal information to the individual(s). A legitimate sweepstakes, such as that of PCH, is free and they do not require money in order to claim a prize. 

In this latest scam the suspect(s) calls claiming you have won the PCH Sweepstakes but in order to claim your prize you must first send money for processing fees and taxes.  The victim is asked to wire the money (in this case money was wired to a Western Union in South Carolina), or to purchase a pre-paid credit card (which was also done in this case), or to provide their bank account information in order to begin processing the prize.  The vast majority of individuals who receive such a call realize the correspondence is a scam and do the right thing by hanging up the phone and not sending any money or providing any personal information. 

Scams of this nature, and similarly related scams (e.g., other lotto and sweepstakes claims, check fraud, Mystery Shopper Opportunities, “Grandparent” Scam, etc.), ultimately work because they prey upon people’s ambitions, vulnerabilities, and emotions.  Unfortunately some individuals do fall prey and in turn lose their money and/or become victims of identity theft in one form or another. 

More often than not the scams target the elderly or individuals who may have a poor command of the English language.  Although there is some variation to each particular scam, the premise is fairly consistent; that is, in one way or another you are contacted/approached and told you are a winner however, before claiming your prize you are asked to send money (again usually via wire or pre-paid credit card), provide personal data, or cash a fraudulent check.  Whatever the set-up, the results are always the same for the victim; they end up losing hundreds or thousands of dollars in these scams, or sometimes even having their identity compromised. 

Below are some helpful tips to recognize a possible scam:

·         Ask yourself these questions: 

o   Does the phone call or letter you receive sound/look to good to be true?  Then it probably is.

o   Are they asking for money or personal information?

o   Where is the individual calling from? In this case the victim received a call from a number in Jamaica.  This should be an immediate red flag. 

o   If you receive a letter in the mail does it reflect a poor command of the English language?  Here’s an example from another letter, “We are therefore with great pleasure to notify you that your e-mail address once again, happened to come out top number (1).”

o   Is there a sense of urgency to the call or the letter?  For example are they insisting you must “act now” or lose a good opportunity?

o   Did you initiate contact with this company or individual?  For instance, are you being notified that you won a contest you never entered?  Unsolicited offers are often questionable.

o   Are there errors or inconsistencies with what you are being told?  For example in this case, the victim received a call from Jamaica and was asked to wire money to a Western Union in South Caroline.   

Most of these questions sound obvious and a good dose of common sense is usually good enough to keep you from being a victim.  However, the crooks that perpetrate these kinds of scams only do so because they are successful at it and it pays for them.    

The phone calls, faxes, letters, and e-mails, often sound legitimate and can be very convincing.  If in doubt, shred the mail, hang up the phone, delete the e-mail, or refuse to open the door to your home to someone you don’t know and trust.

You can report scams online to the National Consumers League’s Fraud Center at www.fraud.org.  They maintain a national repository of information and will insure your information gets to the proper investigating authority.   If you are the victim of a crime please report it immediately to the Ventura Police Department at 1425 Dowell Dr., Ventura, CA, or call 805-339-4400. 

Other helpful websites include: