Randy Meier

Randy Meier

Publishers Clearing House organized as a mail-order magazine subscription service in 1953 and started awarding its sweepstakes prizes in 1967. I’m willing to wager it wasn’t too long after 1967, that the first Publishers Clearing House scam popped up. 

This particular scam, with its offer of millions in prizes in exchange for the payment by the winner of a relatively tiny fee, is an enduring feature of the fraud world. It’s still around because it still works, and it snared two seniors in DeWitt and Wheatland in the last couple of months. 

The first victim, a 77-year-old rural DeWitt woman I’ll name Martha, lost at least $12,000. According to her “claims agent,” to claim her prize she needed to pay some fees for delivery. The crooks called her repeatedly over almost a month, persuading her to send cash concealed inside books through the mail, send personal checks to strangers, and finally to send high-dollar cashier’s checks in the mail to strangers. The scammer’s greed in seeking the high-dollar payments led to the scheme’s unraveling, as it tipped off Martha’s bank, which alerted her family. 

The second “prize-winner” victim, a 66 year old Wheatland man, Peter, received the call notifying him he won $3.5 million and a new Mercedes. Peter’s “claims agent” wanted to prove his sincerity by paying off Peter’s credit card debt. Peter gave away his full name, social security number, birthdate, and credit card number to the crook. 

The crook accessed the card account online, and indeed paid off $8,000 in credit card debt – or made it appear that way. It made a believer out of Peter, so he happily agreed to send $1,700 in cash to Canada. Peter went to his bank for the cash, but alert bank officers asking the right questions figured out the scam, and saved Peter’s cash, but it was too late to save his personal information. 

Anytime you get a call from Publishers Clearing House, it is a scam. Always. Hang up. If you get mail from Publishers Clearing House awarding a prize, it’s a scam also. Often this mail encloses a check. The check is counterfeit — don’t cash it.

Contact Seniors Vs. Crime

Let me know about scams, fraud, or other crookedness you run across. Most of what I learn, I learn from you. Contact me at Seniors vs. Crime, Clinton County Sheriff’s Office, 563-242-9211, Ext. 4433, or email me at randymeier@gapa911.us.