The Publishers Clearing House Advance Fee Scam, Explained


I think I get my most annoyed when people try to lie to me about things I know just aren’t true.  Today was one of those times, when a scammer tried to hustle me for money today, on an advance fee scam.

I got a phone call from an 876 number—the CityID recognizes the code location as Discovery Bay, Jamaica—from a caller purportedly named “John Davis”, saying that I was the inexplicable winner of a $2.5 million dollar prize from Publishers Clearing House.  The problem with this logic: Publishers Clearing House is a company located in New York, which gives away prizes based on entry in a sweepstakes.  To my knowledge, I haven’t entered any PCH sweepstakes at all, nor gave them my phone number.

Even with my limited knowledge of how PCH sweepstakes work, I do know this much: they wouldn’t ask me to rush out to a CVS or Walmart and buy a reloadable prepaid debit card (in this case, Green Dot) for $299, and demand I stay on the phone the entire time whilst I hoofed it over there (the fastest I could possibly walk to a CVS is 30 minutes; what the hell were we to talk about for a half hour?).  They would not require, as a condition of receipt of prize, an exorbitant sum of money to collect it.

Folks, this is another example of an advance fee fraud scam.  Essentially, it’s the same premise of the spammy emails you get from princes and businessmen—there’s a boatload of money waiting for you to claim, but you have to jump through hoops and pay a “small” fee to collect the large sum, which in reality is a ruse; one that leads to you paying out more and more money to get absolutely nothing.

This particular scam is just like the others: promise a huge sum of money, pretend like there’s legitimate processing over the phone, pressure you into buying a debit card, at which point I presume they would ask for the number and verification code from the card–which means you will have given them money before you even saw one cent of your “prize.”

Typically, I might be an easy mark for one of these scams; I’m practically broke, don’t have much and in need of funds.  But I’ve been through this before: In late 2008, a Yahoo Messenger chatter tried to butter me up in a similar fashion—this time using the romance angle—and tried to get me to wire them money to Nigeria.  I’ll say this much: anyone who within 30 minutes of an internet chat is throwing themselves at you, preaching lifelong devotion and love without ever having once seen your face?  Is lying to you.

Thus, my rule to a lot of these things: always be skeptical.  Always.

Look, I sure as hell don’t have $299 dollars to put to some debit card, and I’m not about to be pushed and shoved to the local drugstore to pick one up so that you, Mr. Swindler, can get my money right away, while promising me a bunch of cash later.  No, if you have $2.5 million for me, then give it to me; declare my taxes, take out your fee, and send me the damn check.  That’s all it should require.  I’m not going to Walmart for anything except cake squares.

Again, I’m not familiar with the process of Publishers Clearing House, but I doubt they would call from an international location to tell you you’ve won money that you didn’t enter in one of their many sweepstakes—most of which are free to enter at their website, nor would a purchase improve your chances of winning.  Also, PCH answers the question about how winners are notified in their FAQs:

“All PCH prizes of $500 or greater are awarded by either certified or express letter or in person by our famous Prize Patrol at our option. These awards are done as soon as all winning entries and prizes are matched. No one else – not even a celebrity – is authorized to notify you of a win in the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes.

More importantly, there are no strings attached to winning a Publishers Clearing House prize. There is no processing fee, tax or special handling charge required to win. Our prizes are delivered FREE of charge to the winners” (PCH.custhelp.com, 2012).

Then, this answer to whether or not you had to pay a fee to claim a prize:

“No, this was not Publishers Clearing House who contacted you. If you are contacted by someone who says you won a prize, but in order to claim it you must drive somewhere, pay a shipping, handling, or delivery fee, prepay taxes, pay a deposit, give a credit card number, call a 900 number, or purchase a product with a ‘discount voucher’, it is NOT affiliated in any way with the real Publishers Clearing House.

Anyone who believes they have been the victim of a fraudulent contact using the name of Publishers Clearing House, may contact us at our toll-free number 1-800-392-4190.

Anyone who believes they have received a suspicious email using our name and logo, may forward it to our fraud reporting mailbox, abuse@pch.com” (pch.custhelp.com, 2012).

Precisely.  PCH would not ask you to go to any store, purchase a prepaid debit card, and give them the number over the telephone.  So if you get a call like this, and this is what they’re telling you to do; hang up.  If they call back, don’t answer.  They’re trying to rob you, and with your consent.

It irritates me, because I know how these scams play upon people’s proclivity to want to believe they can win a huge sum of money; I am, after all, a compulsive gambler in remission, and I know how that desperation feels.  But this kind of scam is metaphorically like gambling—you’re putting money in the slot in the hope that you’re going to get a huge sum back, and you keep doing it until you realize: you will never hit jackpot, and they’ve got your money.  I think about that, and the elderly who get hit with these scams every day, and the many others who fall for it…and it pisses me off.

Please educate yourself on common fraud schemes, and notify the FBI or Federal Trade Commission if you’ve been victimized.  I know I’m smart enough not to fall for these, but others might not be, and they need to be educated so that they don’t get fooled.

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