Call 12 for Action

Sweepstakes scam costs couple thousands of dollars

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) -- Pam Tavaras and her husband won $750,000 from Publisher's Clearing House. At least that's what the person on the other end of the phone said.

"My husband hangs up on him," Tavaras recalled.

But the caller was persistent.

"It all sounded very legal, very legitimate, and they reel you in," Tavaras said.

The caller told the couple they could claim their prize after paying a fee, so Tavaras mailed a $3,750 check to address in St. Cloud, Minnesota. When the scammers asked for thousands more, Tavaras realized they had been duped.

Cranston Detective Paul Bessette says these scams are common, though criminals rarely use an actual address to receive money from their victims.

Bessette says that address is a good starting point to track the scammers.

"Money, probably never going to get recovered," Bessette said, "But finding out who actually did it? Yes. They used an actual, physical address and the St. Cloud Police Department can find video or something, then we can get somebody."

But the address may be a dead end, nothing more than a location the scammers chose for one quick pickup.

"They'll sit down the street, UPS will drop the package off, and as soon as the package hits the stairs and the UPS truck driver leaves, they pull up and grab the stuff," Bessette explained.

Tavaras knows her money is gone, but she's hopeful police will put a stop to the scammers.

"They destroyed some hopes and dreams," she said. "But I’m still blessed with what I do have."

Publishers Clearing House (PCH) does legitimately give away prize money, but the company says it's important for consumers to protect themselves from scam artists posing as PCH.

PCH noted it will never contact a winner in advance to notify them of a prize award and will never ask for money to claim a prize.

Susan Campbell (scampbell@wpri.com) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.


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