Scam artists are hoping local residents will buy into their latest schemes, which lure victims with prizes totaling thousands of dollars and checks made out to local citizens written on legitimate accounts. But local law enforcement are hoping recipients of award-winning notifications will understand that if it seems to good to be true, it likely is.
“Throw them in the trash,” an adamant Sheriff Jimmy Thornton admonished as he waved two recently received checks in the air.”It may look real; the bank may even think it’s real, but I’m telling you, it’s nothing more than a scam, and we don’t want our citizens getting caught in these get-rich schemes.”
Those schemes, the sheriff stressed, only serve to make those initiating the scam wealthy, leaving local residents victimized and often a few thousands dollars lighter in their bank account.
“We are seeing more and more of these just about every week. Some send a check they want you to cash, along with a letter claiming your a prize recipients; others call you on the phone claiming to be Publishers Clearing House. The checks aren’t real, and Publishers Clearing House doesn’t call, they just show up at your door to surprise you,” the sheriff stressed.
In the last couple weeks, the sheriff said residents have come in, checks in hand, showing him and investigators prize-winning letters and directions that, if followed, would have led them into a web of criminal activity that only ends with victims losing money.
In the one case, a check arrived for $3,875, along with a letter from Waterhouse Financial Services, Toronto, Ontario (Canada), noting that the recipient was declared a winner in their International Shoppers Lotto Powerball.
Then comes the scam. “We have made many unsuccessful attempts to contact you regarding this winning. You are therefore entitled to the sum of $125,000, this is from a total prize of $3 million that was shared among 24 other declared winners.”
The letter tells the recipient that the names were drawn at random out of 50,000 people in the US, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Also included in the letter is a claim number and information about the enclosed check which they warn not to cash until a phone call has been received from the prize center or they have talked with a claim agent whose number and name is provided on the correspondence.
The caller, the sheriff said, usually provides information that sends an alleged recipient to purchase a Green Dot card loaded with the recipients own money.
Another similar scam involves Royal Trust Financial Services, also of Ontario, that wrote a Sampson resident informing them they were a second-prize winning in the USA Mega sweepstakes. Again a check came with the letter and specific instructions that were to be followed before the $4,585 check could be cashed.
“The scams are often alike, with the checks luring you in. I mean on its face that looks like a lot of money in your hands. But don’t be fooled, it’s not,” Thornton said.
The Publishers Clearing House scam is similar but usually involves a phone call rather than a letter. The sheriff said callers will alert would-be recipients that they are winners in the PCH sweepstakes and that a prize patrol will be at their house within the hour.
After the hour is up, without a prize patrol at the door, a second call comes in, alerting the would-be prize recipient that there has been a problem and they need to do a couple of things first. Callers will urge prize recipients to get Green Dot cards, load them with a specified amount of money and then call back in and give them the authorization number.
If a resident goes that far, they are likely out whatever amount of money they put on the card.
“We’ve had some residents actually become victims of these schemes; others have checked them out thoroughly and found them to be fake,” Thornton said.
But the sheriff urges residents not to become victims, nor even waste their time trying to track down whether there’s a chance this one might actually be legit.
“They aren’t, plain and simple. None of them are. Unless it comes from the IRS or the state Department of Revenue, take that check and tear it up, toss it in the garbage and forget about it. Anything more is wasted effort,” Thornton stressed.
The sheriff also urged residents not to confront claim agents, warning that doing so usually finds victims on the bad end of a rather vulgar conversation.
“They get pretty ugly when they are confronted,” Thornton acknowledged. “They use a lot of profanity when they are exposed; let’s just say it’s not very pretty. The best thing anyone can do when they get one of these letters is just toss it and forget it.”
The sheriff said there’s very little his office can do, short of warning residents. Because they are initiated in foreign countries, local law enforcement have no jurisdiction to bring charges.
“It’s a no win situation. Be careful, question things that you get in the mail or, like I said, just toss the mess. It’ll save you a lot of time and headaches.”