BARTOW — As soon as the caller says it, the elderly person who took the call must be swooning with excitement, because they just got told they had won the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes. Suddenly, it would seem, they’ve become instant millionaires.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is warning that if it sounds too good to be true, well, guess what.
Today, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd sent out a warning that a new scam is being reported more frequently, one using the prominent name of the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes to prey on elderly victims.
“Scams like this have one common theme — the caller is insistent that you will be the recipient of great rewards, in the form of cash or prizes, and the caller continues to insist that you comply with his demands,” Judd noted. “Don’t fall for this.”
The way this scam works, Judd said, is a phone call is made from someone who knows the elderly victim’s full name. The victim is told they’re the lucky winner of the nationally-recognized Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes, but to claim their prize, they first need to purchase a Green Dot Moneypak and put several hundred dollars on it. That Moneypak card needs to be sent to the caller, although the victim is assured that once this transaction takes place, they’re going to receive all their sweepstakes earnings.
One caller was even told that the FBI, police, and Sweepstakes officials would come to his home and drive him to CVS to purchase the Moneypak, then drive him to the bank to put money on it.
But it sounded suspicious to the elderly man, who instead opted to call the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and report the call.
“This incident could have turned into a robbery, had the victim complied with the scam artist’s demands,” noted Carrie Eleazer, the public information officer for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
Eleazer said a second victim, an elderly woman, “was notified by mail that she was a sweepstakes winner. Between January and May 2012, she purchased approximately $5,000 worth of Moneypaks and provided them over the telephone to the scam artist. That money cannot be recovered.”
To avoid becoming a victim of any telephone or email scam, the sheriff’s office is urging residents to never give their Social Security number or any personal information over the phone or online unless they were the ones who initiated the contact.
They should also be deeply suspicious of any telephone call or e-mail that comes with urgent requests for their personal financial information, and they should avoid filling out forms in e-mail messages that request any personal information.
They should also routinely check their bank, credit, and debit card statements to make sure there are no unauthorized transactions.
“First, try to identify who the caller is, and get a callback number,” Judd said. “Secondly, call law enforcement and report it.”
A MoneyPak can be purchased at major retailers like Walmart, Walgreens, CVS Pharmacy, Rite Aid, and Kmart. The person who buys one can add any amount they want on it, from $20 to $500 at most retailers, and up to $1,000 at Walmart.
Moneypak’s Web site has even posted a notice to its customers, titled “How to Stop A Scam,” which notes: “Use your MoneyPak number only with businesses on our approved list. If anyone else asks for your MoneyPak number or information from your receipt, it’s probably a scam. Don’t give your MoneyPak number to pay for something you buy through the classifieds or to collect a prize or sweepstakes. Do not give away your receipt information to another party, either. If you give your MoneyPak number or information about the purchase transaction to a criminal, Green Dot is not responsible for paying you back. Your MoneyPak is not a bank account. The funds are not insured against loss.”
Judd also advised residents to use the Internet to do their own research on companies that make calls claiming to be ones that awards prizes, including cash.
Simply by typing in the words ‘SCAM’ or ‘FRAUD,’ the Internet user can find out more about who is contacting them — including whether other complaints have been filed against the callers, Judd said.
“The Internet is a valuable tool for learning about the latest scams,” he said. “You can help us stop scam artists, and avoid falling prey to a scam like this. Educate yourself, and report anything suspicious.
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