Phony sweepstakes letter says winner gets $2.7 million
RIP-OFf LETTER: This is the letter received from a scam pretending to be Publishers Clearing House.
One lucky Goldendale resident is $2.7 million dollars richer today, courtesy of the Publishers Clearing House (PCH). That’s what it said right on the letter he received.
But not so fast. It turns out the scammers who put out the phony letter notifying the Goldendale person of his windfall “fortune” definitely sent it to the one person they least wanted to get it.
“It just looked phony,” says Thomas Hawes, Jr.—a retired police officer. Hawes’ instinct was right.
The letter has the PCH identity all over it (see the image on page 2). It has the distinctive logo. It says it’s from the vice president of international promotions and prize award department, a nice lady named Deborah Holland.
It even has “government approval” stamped on it, as if the governments of the U.S. and Canada (the letter purports to be from Publishers Clearing House Canada/ USA) were happy to chime in and confirm the letter’s legitimacy.
The letter also says to be very, very quiet about having won all this money.
“Please keep this award letter strictly confidential,” it warns, “until your cash winnings have been processed and remitted to your designated account. It is company policy to keep this letter and your cash prize winnings confidential to avoid false claims.”
Not so, says PCH. “PCH never asks you to keep quiet about your winnings,” the real organization says on its web site. “Quite the opposite. We’re always proudly posting pictures and videos of our winners. But the scammers want you to stay quiet so they can get your money without the authorities finding out.”
Hawes decided to spring his own trap for the scammers. He took his letter down to Columbia Bank and asked Customer Service Representative Diane Marvel at the bank to call the “claim agent” listed in the letter, a Mr. Alfred Davis, at (718) 925-3059 (a New York City number). She put the phone on speaker phone and was soon chatting with “Davis,” identifying herself as Hawes’ wife at his request.
“So to what bank account can I send your funds, Mr. Hawes?” the scammer asked.
“Well, what I’d like you to do is just send all $2.7 million to me in cash,” Hawes answered, “nice new bills. My ‘bank account’ is upstairs in my home, see, in boxes.”
Back in New York, a puzzled scammer perhaps began to wonder what he was dealing with. “What’s your occupation, Mr. Hawes?” he asked.
Playing the helpful wife, Marvel responded, “Oh, he’s a retired police officer.”
For some reason, at that point the line seemed to have trouble.
“I’m telling everyone about this,” Hawes says. “The community needs to know that these phony letters are out there.”
PCH is a legitimate sweepstakes company that does indeed award large cash prizes to winners. But it is also the target of many scams. PCH never tells people they’ve won by phone or email. Their letters never warn people to keep quiet until winnings are processed. And PCH never asks for money to “process” winnings, which is the ultimate aim of scammers who, once they have a victim on the phone, typically ask for a sum like $399 to cover “administrative” and “transfer” fees.