A common scam involving official-looking Publisher's Clearing House winning notification letters has cropped up in Greene County.
Cheri Campbell, with the Greene County Sheriff's Department, reports she took a complaint this week by a county woman, who apparently has been bilked out of $2,950.
"It's just so sad. Most citizens in Greene County can not afford this," Campbell said.
The latest Publisher's Clearing House scam, which has been reported in various parts of the United States since 2009, involved a winnings notification letter that was sent to an unidentified woman. The letter contained her proper name and address and stated that she had won $325,000 in a sweepstakes lottery drawing.
She was mailed a check for $4,525, which was designated as her first installment of the prize.
The woman was directed to deposit the check into her bank account and then to call a "claims agent."
She complied with the claim agent's requested to withdraw $2,950 from her bank and send it by Western Union to an address in North Carolina to allegedly cover winnings fees and taxes.
The woman, after she wired the money, became suspicious and contacted the sheriff's department, according to Campbell.
After getting the report from the woman, Campbell called the telephone number on the notification letter and a male subject who said it was "Publisher's Clearing House" answered the phone.
Once Campbell identified herself as being from the sheriff's department, the male hung up.
Campbell said she also talked with Margaret Crossan, Director of Consumer Affairs department at the real Publisher's Clearing House, and found out despite how official the letters might look, the Greene County recipient was the target of a widespread scam.
While senior citizens are often victims of these kinds of fraud crimes, the woman in the local Publisher's Clearing House scam was much younger.
Publishers Clearing House scam reports have come in from at least 19 states.
Not only are letters popping up in mailboxes, but also some people report receiving phone calls from scanners pretending to be with Publishers Clearing House.
Campbell noted that Crossan was able to have the 866-prefix number on the Greene County woman's letter shutdown, but officials say other toll-free numbers are likely to pop up to carry on the scam.
Campbell said it looks like the woman has lost the money, because her bank says she is responsible for the money drawn on the bogus check.
"There is no way to follow up on this," Campbell said in pointing out that the scanners know these kinds of crimes are difficult to trace.
Campbell said her office has also been told the FBI doesn't have the personnel to investigate smaller scams.
Officials have assured her that Publishers Clearing House does not call winners of its lottery.
Instead, they show up at your door with the prize complete with a balloon celebration.
Also, Publishers Clearing House never requires a fee to claim a prize.
"The only way to stop this is to be aware of what it is," Campbell added.
Publisher's Clearing House offers fraud prevention tips:
o Tip 1: Beware of fake check scams.
o Tip 2: Be suspicious of callers claiming you've won, but ask you to send money
o Tip 3: Be wary of e-mails claiming you've won - and asking you to send money or personal information.
o Tip 4: Never give your credit card number to collect a prize.
o Tip 5: Do not send money to claim a sweepstakes prize.
o Tip 6: If an offer sounds too good to be true, think twice - it usually is.
Tip 7: Contact PCH if you are suspicious. PCH provides customers with assistance and can answer any sweepstakes questions you may have. If you wish to report a scam contact or you simply want to reach Publishers Clearing House, call toll-free: 1-800-392-4190. Or write to: Publishers Clearing House, 101 Winners Circle, Port Washington, New York, 11050.
o Tip 8: If you believe you've been the victim of a fraud, contact your local consumer protection officials and file a complaint with the National Fraud Information Center at www.fraud.org.
The Greene County Sheriff's Department can also be contacted for any fraud report at 384-4411.