‘Publishers’ scam promises catch, but with catch

Tom Joyce Staff Reporter

January 14, 2014

A new scam making its rounds in Mount Airy is promising millions of dollars to potential victims — but only if they pay hundreds of dollars beforehand.

A local woman says she has been contacted on two occasions by the scam artists involved, once in December and once last week, informing her that she had won $3.5 million and $2.5 million, respectively.

“They both said they were from Publishers Clearing House,” the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said of the two male callers who told her of huge winnings — which are non-existent. She believes they are simply using the Publishers Clearing House name as a seasonal lure for would-be victims, since the winners of its sweepstakes prizes are announced after the annual Super Bowl in early February.

“Other people are getting them, too,” she said of calls to local residents.

Don’t Pay Up Front

While the lure of millions of dollars can make someone let their guard down, there is a definite red flag associated with the purported Publishers Clearing House scam: requiring recipients to pay money in advance to claim a big prize.

The Mount Airy woman said the first caller in December asked her to send a cashier’s check for $135, based on her recollection. The man who contacted her last week asked for a $750 fee, with the larger amount supposedly covering taxes on the winnings.

“He wanted me to go to Walmart and get a card,” she said of a pre-paid credit card that someone in another location can siphon funds from by using a personal identification number the victim supplies. One of the men asked to meet the woman to supply the prize, which makes her think the scam could involve someone in a location nearby.

After smelling a rat regarding the calls, she contacted the Mount Airy Police Department, where Capt. Alan Freeman said that was the right move.

“I don’t think she’s out any money,” Freeman said Monday. City police have received several calls in the past week about the telephone scam by individuals claiming to represent Publishers Clearing House, he said. “In this particular case, when the citizen told the caller to meet her at the police department, the caller hung up.”

Freeman pointed out that the latest scheme conforms to an established rule of thumb that consumers should remember when contacted about getting rich quick. “When you have to pay anything to get some money, it’s a scam,” he said of a trait that distinguishes legitimate enterprises from those that aren’t.

“The caller may claim that they have been trying to get in touch with the ‘victim’ all day — in most cases this has been a lie,” the police official continued.

“If in doubt, bring it by the police station,” Freeman said of prize offers. “Have an officer take a look at it, make some calls.”

After visiting the police station to report the recent calls, the local woman supplied an officer with a contact number she had been given, which has an area code assigned to Jamaica. When he dialed it, the officer was cursed by the person answering the telephone. “I’m surprised someone even answered,” the captain said of that encounter.

A consumer also can check out claims on their own, Freeman said. “Just do some investigative work if you have any doubt.” Often an Internet search of a name or telephone number that might be given, along with terms such as “fraud,” will reveal reports about scams linked to those, he said.

List Of Schemes Grows

Mount Airy police have fielded a number of complaints involving different scams surfacing locally in recent years.

In addition to the Publishers Clearing House situation, they have dealt with:

• Calls from individuals claiming that members of citizens’ families have been in a vehicular accident and need money to be sent via Western Union or a pre-paid card;

• Familiar scams involving emails supposedly sent by the “FedEx Nigeria Head Office” and letters from the “Austrian International Prize Center” in the Dominican Republic;

• Someone calling to say they are with a group that oversees senior citizens and their bank accounts. The caller, somehow, already has obtained part of the citizens’ personal information and claims that they just want to confirm people’s names and account numbers. That information then can be used to raid the accounts;

• A scam that involves a consumer being notified about unclaimed prizes from Walmart and Target at a rebate center;

• Several incidents in which local residents were called by someone with a phony law firm in Florida and advised that they were being sued. Money is solicited in order to prevent being served with a judgment.

Consumers should never give out account numbers, Social Security numbers or any other personal information over the telephone or Internet, authorities say.

The local woman recently called by the Publishers Clearing House imposters said she recognized right away that they weren’t legitimate, and avoided becoming a victim.

“But I think the public needs to be aware of this.”

Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or