A few nights ago, just as he was sitting down for dinner, Stan Riddle received a call that could have changed his life.
The caller, who called himself Dave Anderson, claimed to represent Publishers Clearing House (PCH) and congratulated Riddle on winning the grand prize in their latest sweepstakes.
“He went through the whole rigamarole – that I’d get $6,500 a month, a new Mercedes in my choice of either gray or white, and all sorts of positive things,” Riddle said.
But for Riddle, who lives at La Posada in Sahuarita, a few things weren’t adding up. The caller had an accent that made him difficult to understand, and Riddle couldn’t recall entering the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes anytime in the last decade.
“I entered that contest once, maybe 20 years ago, and that was enough for me,” Riddle jokes.
When “Dave Anderson” called the next morning to confirm some information in order to deliver the prize, Riddle had a few questions.
“First, since the PCH sweepstakes are still going on, how have I won first prize when I haven’t even entered? And second, how long have you been involved in this scam?”
The caller immediately hung up.
Ira Cochran, a volunteer with Green Valley’s Sheriff’s Auxiliary Volunteer Scam Squad, said he’s seen these types of sweepstakes scams before and doesn’t think they’ll stop anytime soon.
“They tend to ramp up around anticipated award dates, so usually around the end of each month, but it’s constant,” Cochran said.
Fortunately, Riddle recognized the scam before any personal information was compromised, like his Social Security number or bank account, but Cochran said that’s not always the case.
“We do have a fair amount of local residents still falling for this stuff, these types of phishing scams,” he said.
Here’s how they typically work: Imposters, sometimes claiming to be Publishers Clearing House, will contact victims via email, phone or a direct message on social media to tell them they’ve won a prize.
Sylvia Bencomo, who also volunteers with the Scam Squad, says this type of scam can be particularly ruthless because it’s emotionally manipulative.
“Of course, hearing someone say, ‘You’ve won!’ really gets your heart going, and it’s easy for all common sense to go out the window when you get a call like this. That’s exactly what scammers are looking for,” she said.
Then, at some point, the scammer will ask the victim for some type of payment via a credit card or bank account number, or through more non-traditional means, like a wire transfer or preloaded gift cards.
Scammers might explain that the money is for an attorney’s fee, a processing fee or to cover taxes on the prize. Whatever the reason, Cochran said being asked to pay for a prize is a huge red flag, and you’re likely getting scammed.
“If it sounds too good to be true, the vast majority of time, it is exactly that – untrue. It’s just a way to get information from you so that they can target you in other types of scams, like identity theft or bank fraud,” Cochran said.
“We tell people not to fall for this thing where they have to spend money to make money. If it’s a gift, it’s a gift. If it’s a sweepstakes, you don’t have to pay a fee to get it,” he said.
Another sign you’re getting scammed, Bencomo said, is if you don’t remember entering the competition in the first place.
“That’s the main thing we tell people when they call us about sweepstakes. We always ask them, ‘Did you enter?’ If you don’t enter, you’re not eligible to win. Period. You have to enter,” she said.
The real PCH
The good news is that Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes are legitimate – although your odds of winning the current “$5,000 A Week For Life” giveaway are about one in 6.2 billion, according to the official rules. To put that in perspective, the world’s population is just shy of 7.8 billion people.
But you should always be cautious if you receive a prize notification claiming to come from PCH. To differentiate themselves from scammers who are using their name, Publishers Clearing House is careful about how they notify their winners. The official rules state that “winners will be notified by mail or in person at our option.”
PCH will also never phone ahead to disclose that someone has won a major prize. According to their website, PCH always presents their large giveaway prizes “just the way you see it on TV – live and in person by our Prize Patrol, with balloons, a bouquet of roses and check in hand, and with no advance notification!”
Additionally, PCH maintains that no payment, fee or tax of any amount is ever required to claim or receive a prize in any of its giveaways.
Pass it on
If in doubt, Bencomo says the best thing to do in uncertain situations is call the Scam Squad for help. They can research the incident, contact the appropriate authorities if verification is needed, and give you the tools you need to protect your personal information from scammers.
Informing the Scam Squad of fraudulent activity you’ve encountered also helps them stay up-to-date on the latest scams, Bencomo added, which can help keep the entire community informed.
“Scammers are always thinking of new stuff, and from time to time we will learn of a scam that’s worded differently or it’s a new scheme, and it gives us good information to pass out to the community and let them know what they need to be aware of,” Bencomo said.
“And maybe even pass that information on to your friends and relatives. We can’t reach out everywhere, and we really depend on the residents of this community to let other people know – hopefully not let them know that they lost any money, but that it is a scam,” she said.