Scam Imitates Popular Sweepstakes - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

04/28/06

Scam Imitates Popular Sweepstakes

Reader's Digest and Publishers Clearing House have held popular sweepstakes drawings since the '50s. A brand new scam is pretending to be one of those. It's not.

The letter says you've won $50,000, but you need to send back $2,500. Don't do it. One Savannah woman found out the hard way when she tried to cash her check and was almost arrested. Her sweepstakes dreams almost ended behind bars.

Cynthia Shepherd wanted to believe it was real. "Yes," she told us. "I was suckered into it."

Just like anybody else, Shepherd got a $2,500 check in the mail with promises of a much larger prize, and got excited. "It said I won $50,000."

The letter even claimed to have drawn winners through Reader's Digest Publishers Clearing House. Shepherd entered a similar sweepstakes in November, online. Coincidence? She took a chance, called the number on the letter and spoke with a Jeff Brooks.

"He told me to take the check and deposit it into my personal checking account," she said. "I thought, you don't get rich overnight."

Instead of trusting her instincts, Shepherd took the check to a check-cashing place. "It looks like a real check," she noted. "They were going to issue a warrant for my arrest, I was trying to cash a fraudulent check. We were like, 'What in the world is going on?'"

These checks may look real, but there is a way to tell the phonies from the real thing. Take it to a copy machine. A real check, when photocopied, will say "void" across it. On Shepherd's check, there is no void.

"It was Reader's Digest Publishers Clearing House. I thought it was legit," said Shepherd. "You hear Publishers Clearing House, you think, 'Wow, I won.'"

Better Business Bureau's Ross Howard says Shepherd's not the first and won't be the last. Thousands of people have been scammed by this check-letter combination. "Of course, they ask for money back, and the check is no good," he said.

Shepherd did not get arrested, but she did call Jeff Brooks back. "I did not appreciate the humiliation. I told him where he could go."

She says his response--he'll find someone else. That's what she's afraid of. "There could be older people out there who have been scammed."

We called Brooks, too. He refused to answer our questions and hung up. Ross Howard says the rule of thumb is, if they want money back, chances are it's a scam.

Publishers Clearing House even has a disclaimer on its website warning about these kinds of scams.

Reported by: Don Logana, dlogana@wtoc.com

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