SWEEPSTAKES SCAMS HIT VOLUSIA COUNTY
Volusia County residents have been getting phone calls and letters lately with what sounds like great news: they won a sweepstakes! The unfortunate reality is that there is no big prize. It’s a scheme that has scammed more than $10,000 from three local victims in August as reported to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office. The scammers tell the victims that in order to release their winnings they have to pay taxes or other fees. Those fake fees are shipped to the scammers either through a wire transfer or by the victim purchasing pre-paid debit cards and then providing the card numbers to the scammers over the phone. In some cases, the scammers have even claimed to represent the well known and legitimate Publishers Clearing House when, in fact, they are not.
In one case, a 79-year-old DeBary man got a call from someone claiming to be from Publishers Clearing House who announced that the man had won $5.5 million. However, he was instructed to first pay fees through a combination of pre-paid debit cards and money orders. The DeBary man lost several thousand dollars before finally realizing that it was a scam. In a separate DeBary case, an 81-year-old man got a call saying he won $2.1 million from Global Sweepstakes Limited. He was told to ship the fake fees through Western Union. That man lost several hundred dollars.
A 50-year-old woman near Ormond Beach got a notice in the mail saying she won a sweepstakes. She initially disregarded it, but then she got another flyer in the mail saying that time was running out to claim her prize. She called a phone number that was on the flyer and was instructed to buy several pre-paid debit cards and then provide the card information to sweepstakes personnel over the phone. She was told that the prize check would arrive in a few weeks, but when it didn’t, she did her own research and discovered she had been scammed.
Finally, a 60-year-old DeLand man got a check in the mail, supposedly from Publishers Clearing House. He was to use that money to pay fees that would in turn release the full $125,000 prize. After depositing the check, he felt that something wasn’t right. He called Publishers Clearing House and learned that it was a scam. Fortunately, he had not sent any money to the crooks!
To avoid these types of scams, the first thing you need to know is that no legitimate lottery or sweepstakes will ever demand that you pay any fees up front. As soon as someone asks you to send fees, especially if they run into the hundreds or thousands of dollars, you should hang up the phone, not deposit any checks you received from them and not respond to any related mailed correspondence.
Also, when told you’ve won a big prize, you need to think about whether you had ever entered the sweepstakes in the first place. For instance, Publishers Clearing House never automatically enters anyone in their sweepstakes. If you don’t recall entering a contest, then chances are that you haven’t won a prize from them.
Scammers are good at convincing their victims that everything is fine and legal. So, if you find yourself unsure of whether the winnings you supposedly have waiting for you are real, call your local law enforcement agency for advice before paying money for any reason. And if you or anyone you know falls victim to this type of scam, report it to law enforcement. There is no need to feel embarrassed. Many people across the country are taken in by these slick scammers. The information you provide could help catch these crooks or at least make it more difficult for them to snag future victims.