THE ISSUE: Scammers getting more clever with their schemes
OUR VIEW: Never give money up front to claim a prize
It's generally good news when someone local wins a big prize.
Be it the lottery or high-value raffle, The Times has published numerous stories of residents' stories of luck.
This was the case last month when Marseilles resident Jason Baron won a Publishers Clearing House prize of $10,000.
“I never thought the contest was real,” Baron said. “But I sure do now! I'm proof that someday, they could appear on your front porch. Don't give up. It's real!”
It's true, representatives showed up on his doorstep with a giant check and a cameraman. The local press was notified. No red flags to indicate the prize was a hoax. The prize-givers clearly wanted publicity on the event.
But while the Publishers Clearing House prize was legitimate, scammers continue to get more clever and, yes, slimier with their schemes.
The story prompted a reader to send a letter to The Times, sharing their own cautionary tale. Unfortunately, the letter wasn't signed, which is a requirement for letters to be published, but we believe their message is important, and worth sharing in this editorial.
The letter noted it's good to hear when someone wins the lottery or Publishers Clearing House, and the intent of the letter was to be a warning to readers about financial scams.
For years, The Times has heard from readers duped by such scams. For instance, just last month — the same week we wrote about the Publishers Clearing House prize — we reported on an 80-year-old Ottawa woman who was saved by a bank teller from being caught up in a phone scam.
Our recent letter-writer noted they were convinced by a "fancy letter from the MegaMillion Sweepstakes."
"(The letter advised) I had won first prize in their monthly drawing, all I had to do is pay a small amount for transfer fees and the $2.5 million was mine."
Luckily, the person's financial adviser cautioned it was a scam and directed them to cut off all contact.
But the voice of the sweepstakes administrator, as well as others who claimed to be representatives from the contest, sounded legitimate.
"This went on through August and September with daily calls from the chairman of the board of MegaMillions, who had nice things to say. Like keep it secret so you don't have to deal with calls and visits from the public, asking for financial help. In the meantime, I was thinking of all the good things I could do to my family and friends, and the Sunshine Foundation, who provides terminally ill children with a dream vacation in Florida."
There were demands for "certification, insurance, verification" and talk of codes that would be provided to open suitcases full of cash. Very cloak and dagger stuff, but again, sometimes the convincing acting of the scammers clouds a victim's judgment.
Ultimately and fortunately, the victim contacted police, who since have taken on the case.
The letter ends with a simple "Be careful!"
Regardless of how convincing someone sounds when they're offering you money as a prize, focus on the details, not the person.
We can't stress this enough — if collection of a prize requires you to pay money up front, walk away.
And, most importantly, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.