Voice of the consumer: Sweepstakes prizes are always free

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - 11 News lead Call For Action investigator Katie Pelton pens a weekly column for our news partner The Gazette. Previous columns can be found here.

When a random check shows up with your name on it for hundreds of thousands of dollars, it can be hard to resist, and that’s what scammers are banking on. One woman has been hoping she’d one day get a letter saying she was the big winner of the Publishers Clearing House (PCH). The only problem — it’s a scam. A scam that never seems to go away, so I want to tell you about it again so we can get the word out.

Lenora called me after her mother got a letter in the mail saying she’d won more than half a million dollars. Her mom was excited at first because she has entered the sweepstakes. The letter came with a check for more than $8,000.

“The check is made out from a construction company, whereas the letter at the right-hand corner says PCH.com, Publisher’s Clearing House,” Lenora said.

Her mother called the scammer and he asked her for information, like her birthday. The guy told her to deposit the check and send back $7,500 to pay for fees to get her winnings.

“Then today between the hours of 8 and noon he will process her $600,000 and send that to her,” said Lenora. “To me this is just the most elaborate one I’ve ever seen.”

Immediately, the red flags went up for Lenora. They didn’t deposit the check and stopped responding to the scammer. But the whole thing was hard on her mom.

“I’m more angry than anything,” Lenora said. “To take advantage of somebody that’s elderly and build their hopes up like that, and get them all excited, and then they have to be let down, to know this isn’t true, this is a scam.”

“It could have created a whole lot of problems for her,” she added. “My mother is on assistance, she gets assistance and for me to deposit something like this would really mess her up.”

Keep in mind, the actual Publishers Clearing House will never tip off winners, they show up unannounced at the winner’s doorstep. The legitimate group says winning is always free and you never have to pay to claim a prize. PCH says their employees will never contact you personally or in advance to notify you of a prize award.

The check may look real and your bank might even cash it, but then it will bounce and you’ll be responsible for the money you wired or sent to the scammer. The sweepstakes says if the prize isn’t free and you’re asked to send money, it’s a scam. If you get a scam like this, you can report it to the Federal Trade Commission at www.FTC.gov.

I also wanted to give a quick reminder to be very careful about scrutinizing businesses before you hand over any money or let them into your home. A woman told me a man came to her door selling a security system. She let them set it up and says her bank account was charged multiple times. She called her bank and blocked the payments, and says it was a headache dealing with the company. This is a good reminder to do your research before signing any contracts or agreeing to any type of business deal. Always keep your guard up.

If you think you can help others spot scams and deal with companies, you may be a good fit for our Call for Action team. If you’re interested in volunteering, give us a call at 719-457-8211.

Click here to read the original column on gazette.com.