Knoxville woman warns not to fall for sweepstakes scam

Knoxville woman warns not to fall for sweepstakes scam

Posted:
By DON DARE
6 On Your Side Consumer Investigator

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - It seems like a dream come true. You get a call or a letter saying you've won a major sweepstakes. Don't get too excited, because "winning" can cost you.

Con artists often use the name of the country's most iconic sweepstakes company, Publishers Clearing House, a legitimate business that wants to protect its name.

The multi-million dollar giveaways from Publishers Clearing House are among the most well-known sweepstakes in America, and they get millions upon millions of entries.

Con artists know everyone wants to be a winner, and somehow they have our phone numbers.

Ruth Surrett, 71, like many people, dreams of someday striking it rich.

Because she's participated in the program for 23 years, Surrett envisions the Prize Patrol from Publishers Clearing House rushing up to her door, giving her the good news.

Recently she received a call from a guy claiming to be with PCH.

"He said, 'I'm from Publishers Clearing House.' He said, You just won $3.5 million and a new car.' Of course, I was all excited you know," Surrett said.

To sound official, the caller gave Surrett his name, Tom Jones, and his badge number as well.

"He said the only thing we require, after he transferred me over to this David Johnson, is a $2,500 check mailed overnight," she said.

She was told the $2,500 would pay the taxes on her winnings, but she didn't have that kind of money.

"He said, 'Can you send a $500 check through the mail?' I sat there and I said, 'Well, sure.'"

Suspicious, Surrett told Jones she was going to try to get the money. He apparently believed she was serious.

"So, I waited. He called back and said, 'Did you mail that check.?' I said, 'Lord yes, I did,' which i was lying," she said with a laugh.

At the Better Business Bureau, Jeannie Hoskins says they receive a dozen or so complaints every week about con artists who tell people like Ruth Surrett they've won money from Publishers Clearing House, but first need cash up front.

"All they're going to do is take your money, then you'll never hear from them again. Unless you send them money, then they're going to call and ask for more," said Hoskins.

The real Publishers Clearing House says winning is always free and you never have to pay to claim a prize award. PCH says major winners are notified by mail or in person, and they never phone ahead to disclose major prizes.

Publishers Clearing House also says it does not send emails notifying consumers they have won a major prize.

Finally, if you are asked for payment after being told you're a winner, it's not the real Publishers Clearing House.
 
Hoskins says the fraudsters who call from boiler room operations are persistent, and once they get the money, it's gone.

Ruth Surrett, who believed the caller at first, wants others to hear her warning.

"I work, and I know I don't want them to scam me out of what I got. And I don't want them to scam nobody else out of nothing."

Publishers Clearing House goes to great lengths to combat scams in order to protect you.

A dozen people call the 6 On Your Side hotline each week claiming they were told they had won the PCH sweepstakes, but they say the caller, who has a distinct foreign accent, wanted money first.

Remember, if you are ever asked to send or wire money to claim a sweepstakes prize, you are being scammed. Hang up. Once you send it, you can't get it back.
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