By Brandi Makuski
A Plover resident was notified last month he’d won $600,000 cash prize from the Publisher’s Clearing House.
Unfortunately, the notification was a scam. And a good one.
The elderly man received a letter dated Sept. 13 announcing his winnings. The official-looking correspondence on PCH letterhead said the man needed to call a PHC branch office with a New York phone number to arrange for the “processing” of his award.
Also in the envelope was a check for almost $8,000 to “assist you with out-of-pocket-expenses” such as the “post-winning services” the company offered to help him manage his prize.
Certain it was too good to be true, he brought the letter to the Plover Police Department, asking for advice.
“He was very upset that he wasn’t actually a winner,” said officer manager Chris Knipple. “I would be, too. You get that big check in the mail, it’s tempting to go and cash it.”
Knippel called the phone number listed in the man’s letter to obtain more information, but when she said she was calling from the Plover Police Department, the man on the other end of the phone hung up.
The man’s check was drawn from an account under the name Surface Art Inc., a building materials company based in Tukwila, Wash.
Had the man cashed the check, according to the “scams” page of the Federal Trade Commission website, he would have inadvertently been giving away his banking information, and be subject to cash withdrawals without his knowledge, or worse yet, identity theft. He also may have been duped into paying “processing” fees before the company would release his prize money, but never receive the cash.
A receptionist who answered the phone at Surface Art Inc. said the company has received “a number of similar phone calls” from people asking about the checks, but the woman said the company has nothing to do with the scam and agreed to have a company representative call back to answer questions.
“This is the first time we’ve heard about it happening in Wisconsin,” she added.
A call to Publisher’s Clearing House was not immediately returned, but their website offers tips on avoiding scams under the ruse of having won a prize.
“Unfortunately, there are plenty of scammers out there who try to trick our fans into believing they’ve won,” said Danielle Lam, from the PCH Prize Patrol, in a consumer education video on the website.
Lam said PCH never notifies winner with a phone call or conduct communication via social media, and winners are never asked to pay any fees to claim their prizes.
Scammers, she said, use the names of real PCH employees who often appear in the company’s commercials and other marketing materials to make any communique appear official.
Knipple said there were many “tells” that the letter was a scam, to include punctuation and spelling errors, and she noted the check was written for an odd amount of money.
Anyone with similar circumstances can contact the Plover Police Dept., 2420 Post Rd., (715) 345-5255, or the Federal Trade Commission to file a formal complaint.