Scammers pretend to be from Publishers Clearing House, ask for cash – Detroit Free Press

Michelle Levise laughs a bit now when she remembers the young man who called her home and told her she was a mega winner for the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes.
“He wanted to know what I was going to do with all that money,” said Levise, who lives in New Baltimore, which holds bragging rights for Michigan’s tallest flagpole.
She doesn’t recall exactly how much he claimed she won — noting that she doesn’t like to clutter her head with pointless information. It was going to be plenty every month. 
She does recall that all she had to do was send them a cashier’s check for $4,800 and they would come to her home and bring her winnings.
“Seriously?” she told me by phone. She had never heard of having to send someone thousands of dollars to claim a prize. 
And there were other red flags, nearly as big as that American flag flying in New Baltimore at the foot of Lake St. Clair’s Anchor Bay. 
Things like, move fast. The sooner she could send that check, she was told, the sooner that they could release that check out of Richmond, Michigan, which is about a 10-minute drive away. Why would they be waiting in Richmond?
And the phone number on her caller ID was different from the phone number she was supposed to call once she got that cashier’s check in hand. That, too, didn’t make sense to her.
The prize was supposedly a “Golden Harvest” sweepstakes that would pay her over her lifetime. But she was suspicious because she never heard of anything called a Golden Harvest prize from Publishers Clearing House, which she does enter sometimes. Golden Harvest is not a real giveaway or terminology that Publishers Clearing House has ever used in its promotions. 
And the young man on the phone spoke incredibly slowly and could not seem to pronounce his words clearly. “No professionalism in his speech. None,” Levise said. 
“Actually I thought he had been drinking,” said Levise, 72, who is retired after jobs in the supermarket industry and as a personal assistant for a broker in real estate. She now enjoys freelance photography, especially taking photos at the waterfront at twilight at the “moment when the light meets the dark.” 
She didn’t rush off to her bank. She called the Better Business Bureau instead to check out if this really was a scam, just in case, and possibly shine a light on what she thought could spell financial trouble for some other retirees and seniors.
“If I could prevent that in any way, shape, or form, I’m all in,” Levise said. 
Everyone, of course, would love to feel like a winner — and the scammers are betting that they can grab some quick cash off those big dreams.
But the best way to protect your money is to watch out for those red flags of a scam and stop before sending any money or handing over any personal information. 
As part of a sweepstakes scam, the crooks often try to convince you that you’ll be sent a huge check for your prize after you pay some sort of processing fee and taxes up front. Typically, they’re going to ask you to put cash on gift cards or send money via a wire transfer. 
Publishers Clearing House and other legitimate sweepstakes do not require you to buy anything, place an order for something or hand over money to cover a tax or fee of any kind to collect a real prize.
“If someone tells you that you have won a prize but that you have to send money for any reason, hang up the phone, rip up the letter or delete the email or social media post,” said Chris Irving, vice president of consumer and legal affairs for Publishers Clearing House in Jericho, New York. 
The scammers who promise big winnings often try to steal money by claiming that consumers need to cover the “prepayment of taxes” or “Homeland Security fees.” Or they might even say you need to send money to cover a refundable deposit or some sort of transfer fee to collect that prize. It’s not true. 
Publishers Clearing House notes that scammers might request money via Western Union, MoneyGram, Green Dot Cards, assorted gift cards and even sometimes tell you to send cash through the mail.
Consumers can report a scam online at or call the customer service team at 800-645-9242 and say “Report a Scam” from the main menu. 
The Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula warns consumers that it has seen an uptick of complaints about imposters claiming to be from Publishers Clearing House and other groups offering prizes.
Many people, fortunately, aren’t sending cash. But the BBB reported that locally consumers lost about $1,500 in the past three months. The losses could be higher because many victims do not report their losses out of fear that family members and friends will find out and be upset with them. 
The scammers can even be bold enough to claim that they’re a BBB-accredited business. 
Some variations of the scam involve receiving a check for a few thousand dollars in the mail to deposit and then being asked to overnight some cash. The check is fake and ultimately will bounce after the bank allows the account holder to withdraw cash from the deposit. 
Even if a bank teller says a check has “cleared,” the BBB warns, the check could be detected as a fake weeks later. “One thing you can be sure of is that you will be on the hook for any funds drawn against the amount,” the BBB said. 
You’re very likely not going to get that money back — and you’re not going to receive any sweepstakes prize even though some consumers get a break.
In July, the Federal Trade Commission announced a settlement in a case involving 244,745 consumers in the United States, Canada and elsewhere who were defrauded by a Next-Gen sweepstakes scheme. The deadline for consumers to cash their checks or claim their PayPal payments is Oct. 17.
The consumers, including many seniors, had been falsely told they had won or were likely to win as much as $2 million, according to the FTC. But they first needed to pay a fee ranging from $9 to $139.99.
Participants paid a fee but didn’t get the promised prizes, according to the FTC. Many people paid the fee several times before realizing there was no prize. 
Those who have questions about their refund should contact the refund administrator, Rust Consulting, at 833-721-2728 or 612-509-2644 or
Many of the scammers, though, aren’t being caught and consumers are out the cash. 
The scammers are calling consumers directly, reaching out via social media posts, sending texts and even sending real letters in the mail to congratulate people on their big win — and yes, ask for cash up front before any prize can be sent.
Another warning: Crooks who pretend to be associated with Facebook are running a scam about a so-called lottery and sending fake email messages. You did not, repeat, win millions in a Facebook lottery. 
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While robocalls are on the decline, consumer watchdogs warn that scammers are texting more frequently now one year after a new federal law led to a crackdown on illegal robocalls. Federal Communications Commission rules require that U.S. voice service providers use of technology to better identify robocalls. 
But more scammers now text as a way to get around some new rules on robocalls and the improved technology. Robotexts aren’t covered by the federal law that went into place June 30, 2021. 
Consumers could be more trusting of a text that appears to be from a brand name or a big bank, too. 
“Robotexts are the next generation of scams,” according to a report called “Ringing In Our Fears” by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. 
PIRG noted that more cellphone and home phone companies are filtering calls and offering customers new services, such as flagging suspicious calls to give the receiver the choice of answering, sending them to voicemail or blocking them.
But the report also pointed out that robotexts have increased twelvefold in the past year, from about 1 billion to 12 billion per month, according to RoboKiller.
In October 2021, Federal Communications Commission chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced proposed rulemaking that would require mobile wireless providers to block illegal text messaging. The full FCC has not acted yet. 
Rosenworcel pointed out last fall that there has been a rise in scammers trying to take advantage of the general trust that consumers have in the text messages that they’re receiving.
“It’s time we take steps to confront this latest wave of fraud and identify how mobile carriers can block these automated messages before they have the opportunity to cause any harm,” Rosenworcel said in a statement. 
Crooks pretend that they’re from the bank or credit union and they’re trying to stop fraud when they’re really trying to steal your money. They might ask for a special code but don’t hand it over to them. 
Or the imposter text from a bank might ask you to “verify your account immediately” by clicking on a link. 
Or the scammers impersonate Amazon and send a text about an order. 
Or scammers might text and pretend they’re from the local utility company, and later request cash transfers.
One recent scam involved criminals posing as DTE Energy contacting customers first via text message and then by phone call asking them to make missed payments through a website, often using cash transfer apps such as Zelle, according to a warning by the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services. 
Best bet: Never give personal or account information to anyone calling you, even if the caller says that it is for “verification purposes.”
You might imagine that you’re the only person who is dealing a problem — or the only person who just won $2.5 million through “Mega Millions Online,” another popular ongoing scam. 
But the Federal Trade Commission warns that the “same text, email, or letter went to lots of people.” 
Three signs of a sweepstakes scam, according to the FTC, are:
The sad truth is that big winners can easily lose good money when it comes to sweepstakes scams, especially if they don’t pause a bit and pay attention to any of the red flags along the way. 
ContactSusan Tompor via Follow her on Twitter@tompor. To subscribe, please go to Read more on business and sign up for our business newsletter.


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