I was stressing about deadlines last week when I received a call.
"So I just got a call informing me that I was a winner of the Publishers Clearing House grand prize," said Sandra Drany from Silver Bay.
Before she even got to the next line, I was internally groaning. It had to be a scam. There's no way someone was calling the newspaper just to share the good news.
"And he said all these good things about winning $6.5 million and a Mercedes and $7,000 a week for the rest of your life," Sandra said. "And then he asked me to deposit $599.99 to secure my prize, and I was like, 'Ah-ha, here we go.'"
Here we go, indeed. It was a familiar story. Just about a month ago, my mother had received a similar phone call. She'd been partaking in Publishers Clearing House mailings for the past few months, much like Sandra, and wasn't sure if the call was legitimate or not at first.
"They really try to string you along and sound so excited for you," Mom said. "They were throwing out all these details at me about how much I'd won and how lucky I was."
Sandra said the caller had provided her with a name and an employee number to make themselves more legitimate sounding.
But then comes the next part of the scam. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the Publishers Clearing House winner scam pops up every few years. Just last year in Duluth, an individual lost $1,000 to a scam caller claiming to be from Publishers Clearing House.
Typically, the callers start with exciting news, but then require you to send money to pay for fees and taxes. You’ll often be asked to send money by Western Union or MoneyGram, or by getting a reloadable card or gift card. Scammers ask you to pay these ways because it’s nearly impossible to trace the money — and you’ll rarely get it back.
In Sandra's case, she said the caller claimed the deposit was to help pay for the taxes that accompanied the prize.
"And I said they could take it out of the $7,000 that I'm supposedly getting," she said. "And he claimed the bank doesn't work that way, and I said, 'Because this is a scam.'"
My father took a slightly different approach with the phone call my mother received. The caller claimed to have people en route to my parents' house at that moment to deliver the prize.
"'Great, we'll just wait here then. Wouldn't want to miss them by going out to a Western Union place to pay a scammer off,'" Dad said and then hung up the phone.
The real Publishers Clearing House says it will never ask you to pay a fee to collect a prize. In fact, there is a scam incident report individuals can fill out on the PCH website under the "frequently asked questions" section. Likewise, you can fill out a scam report with the Federal Trade Commission at ftccomplaintassistant.gov.
"I just thought, the nerve of these people," Sandra said. "I can only imagine how many people they sucker out of their hard-earned dollars."
It's a bit cliche to say if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. But it's a dang useful cliche in this particular situation. Practice caution when answering your phone. Remember that you can always hang up.
Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle. She can be reached at 218-834-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org.