Fake cash winnings used by scammers to trick people into paying them

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COLORADO SPRINGS — Fraudsters want you to know you’re about to claim a big cash prize. All they need is for you to pay a fee and provide some information. News5 viewers say just hang up because you’ll never see that fake price.

“He called and left a message first and I didn’t hear the phone. So that was his voicemail: “Call us back. You are the winner of $2.5 million and a check for $5,000 a week for the rest of your life,” said Colorado Springs News5 viewer Robin Palazzolo.

The call supposedly came from the popular Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes. Robin says she was shocked to get the phone call midweek but hoped it was real.

“I thought wow, I’m a winner, everyone does. I hadn’t participated in years, but I think we’ve all participated once or twice,” said Palazzolo.

So she called back.

“He said I know you don’t think it’s real, but it’s very real. A lot of people don’t believe me when I call and he kept saying it was a life changing event,” Palazzolo said.

But there was a catch. She had to go to the bank and deposit $5,000 to unlock the prize and the man on the phone, an impostor, told her it was standard protocol

“Well, we have to pay for the Prize Patrol. They’ll meet you there with the balloons and control of a black and gold van,” the man told Palazzolo on the phone.

Feeling uncomfortable with the demand, she added her husband to a three-way call and he didn’t buy the plan.

“My husband said to him, why don’t you get a real job? He said hang up, go ahead and hang up,” Palazzolo told News5.

Publisher’s Clearing House is holding a legitimate sweepstakes. You’ve probably seen the ads on TV with Steve Harvey, but on his website he warns against phone calls like this and even bogus solicitations sent through the mail.

We have other examples of scam calls from Publishers Clearing House imposters targeting News5 viewers. Last year, News5 spoke to Elaine, who lives in Pueblo, and an impostor told her over the phone that she had won $3,000,000.

“I was one of them, I didn’t say it didn’t happen, I just said it never happened to me. These scam calls do happen. They’re scary,” she said.

Palazzolo thinks people will make the mistake of paying off thousands of fraudsters in situations like this because she was almost one of them.

“I cracked up for a few minutes. I was coached and I’m embarrassed to say it because I think I’m pretty smart, but he really tricked me,” Palazzolo said.

If you receive one of these phony calls, there are red flags that can help you hang up quickly.

According to Publishers Clearing House:

  • He will never call, email or text to say you are a winner as contact is made in person
  • Winning is always free. It will never ask you for payment of any kind in advance
  • He will never send you a check and ask you to return some of the money

Publishers Clearing House is partnering with the Federal Trade Commission, the US Postal Service, and law enforcement to try to stop these fraudsters. But as we can see, these contacts continue to occur.

You can contact us at News5 at any time if you have questions about situations you believe are scams.
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