Sweepstakes Scam: 'It sounded so real'

When the call came to a Pillager home announcing they were $2.5 million winners, Louise Pilgrim was speechless. Pilgrim regularly takes part in the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes so it was possible. But the retiree was too savvy to be take...

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When the call came to a Pillager home announcing they were $2.5 million winners, Louise Pilgrim was speechless.

Pilgrim regularly takes part in the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes so it was possible. But the retiree was too savvy to be taken in so quickly.

"I couldn't believe it, that I'd be that lucky," she said. The caller even asked her to put her husband on the phone. "He sounded so real."

The money wasn't the end of the riches offered as the prize reportedly came with a luxury Lincoln. The caller asked her how she felt to be the winner. But Pilgrim has listened to scams before, including one where the caller said her grandson was sick in a hospital bed. That time, she told them she knew where her grandson was and they hung up.

This time, she knew what sounded too good to be true was exactly that when the caller wanted her to send him money to deliver her the millions-$450 to be exact. The caller said if she didn't pay the money, they would be forced to call the next person on the list and the millions and the Lincoln would go to someone else.


While they sounded so real, Pilgrim said she knew she would never have to pay for the prize.

"You don't send money to win," she said.

But Pilgrim, who has lived in the area for 24 years, said she worries about the next person who picks up the phone call.

"Somebody will fall for it," she said. "He sounded so very real that it was true. ... I'm worried about how many others might believe it."

Pilgrim said a family member called Publishers Clearing House and they confirmed they would never ask for money up front to receive a prize.

Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission noted this con is an "oldie but a goodie for scammers."

"The scam starts with a call or letter saying you've won the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes," Emma Fletcher, from the FTC's Division of Consumer and Business Education, wrote in a blog on the department's website. "But to collect your prize, they say, you need to send money to pay for fees and taxes. Typically you'll 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 almost never get it back.

"But that's not the only way scammers get your money with this scam. Some will send you a realistic-looking fake check in the mail. You're told that, to claim your prize, you need to deposit the check and send some of the money back for made-up expenses. But when the check you deposit bounces-even after it seemed to clear-you may be on the hook for the money you sent."


The FTC notes:

• Never send money to collect a prize, sweepstakes check or lottery winnings. It's a scam if it is requiring a payment. The FTC asks people to hang up and then report the scam to them using an online complaint form. Go to to find the complaint assistant,

• Never deposit a check and send money, even if the funds appear in your account.

Publishers Clearing House has an entire fraud protection section on its website in response to scammers using the company's name, brand and even actual names of members of its PCH Prize Patrol.

"If someone contacts you claiming to be from PCH, and tells you that you've won a prize-then asks you to send a payment or money card in order to claim the prize-STOP! You have not heard from the real PCH," the company reports. "If you are ever contacted by someone claiming to represent PCH, or claiming to be one of our employees, and asked to send or wire money (for any reason whatsoever, including taxes); or send a prepaid gift card or Green Dot Moneypak card in order to claim a sweepstakes prize-DON'T! It's a SCAM. If you are sent a check, told it's a partial prize award, and asked to cash it and send a portion back to claim the full prize award, DON'T. The check is fake, but the SCAM is real!"

Publishers Clearing House noted it is working with the FTC, U.S. Postal Service and law enforcement to try to catch the scammers. However, scammers continue to operate and the best defense is knowing if the prize isn't free, it is a scam, the company states.

Scams may come via email requesting personal banking information, or text message, or arrive via regular mail.

Some scams present a check that looks real and may even provide initial funds from the bank for a short time before the check bounces and the forgery is discovered. Those scams seek a portion of the money back to pay for fees or taxes or lure victims by telling them this check is a first installment when it is only another way to separate an unwary consumer from their cash.


"A legitimate sweepstakes will never ask you to send money to enter a sweepstakes, claim a prize, or to pay a fee, tax or deposit," Publishers Clearing House reports.

Anyone who believes they have been a victim of a scam using Publishers Clearing House's name or logo is asked to contact them right away at 800-392-4190 and contact the National Fraud Center at and go to to read more about the scams using Publishers Clearing House's name.

Related Topics: CRIME
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