We’d like to make you aware of a popular scam that uses the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes as its cover. One of our clients recently received a letter purportedly from the Publishers Clearing House, claiming that the client was a third-place prize winner and would receive $1,500,000. At first blush, the letter may appear legitimate, but closer inspection reveals certain signs that flag the letter as a fabrication. The letter arrived with a check for almost $6,000 made payable to the client, “provided to help pay insurance, handling, shipping and attorney fees,” according to the letter. Like the letter, the check appears legitimate until close inspection reveals that it was fabricated. images0FFCT6KR

Scammers send the fabricated check in the hopes that the victim will deposit it. The victim’s bank likely also would not question its legitimacy, and may make the funds available to the victim upon deposit. When the victim calls the number given on the accompanying letter, the scammers would reiterate that the check was only an advance, and would instruct the victim to write a check back to them so that they can release the winnings to the victim. The victim would then issue a real check and await receipt of the non-existent winnings. He or she would discover soon thereafter that the check the victim received from “Publishers Clearing House” did not clear, and the victim would be out not only the amount of the check, but potentially also the amount of overdraft fees.

Please be wary of any unsolicited letters or emails stating that you’ve won a prize or you’re eligible for winnings, particularly any that already include a check. Keep the following tips in mind upon receipt of any such notifications:

  • Genuine letterhead usually does not have logos and “official” seals or stamps that are blurry or indistinct.
  • Inconsistent font type or font size is also usually not characteristic of an authentic letter.
  • Obvious spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors often indicate that the letter was not prepared by a legitimate organization representative.
  • Instructions to keep the award or notice confidential, or to refrain from discussing it with family or friends, is a significant red flag.
  • Microprinting is difficult to fabricate – if the security features on the reverse of the check state that it has a microprint border or signature blank, look closely at those features to see if it truly is microprinting or if it is just a solid line (or not there at all).

Above all, if any correspondence notifies you that you’ve won, but you have to send in a check, money order, or prepaid card in order to receive the funds, it is a scam. When in doubt, also remember that you can go directly to the website of the organization that purportedly sent the letter to find more information. The website of Publishers Clearing House, for instance (http://info.pch.com/consumer-information/fraud-protection), has an entire page devoted to helping the public determine if the correspondence they received is real or a scam. Likewise, you can always contact us to help you determine if the correspondence is legitimate.

Should you have any questions regarding this information or other possible scams, please contact our office at 239.433.5554.