by Morgan Montalvo
Phone scammers are co-opting the name of one of America's best-known sweepstakes to separate Texas seniors from their retirement incomes, WOAI News reports.
This latest scam involves crooks posing as representatives of Publishers Clearing House calling unwitting elders and telling them that they've won big prizes, including huge cash sums and luxury automobiles.
Next, the crooks inform their potential victims that they lack the necessary "membership" on a "mailing list," which can be covered with a Visa gift card that seniors purchase locally. The victims are told to have the card numbers ready to share when the "representatives" call back within hours or the next day.
The crooks, who have been busy in Texas, convert the card numbers into cash or merchandise.
Arthur Woodgate, a retired U.S. Army Intelligence warrant officer and computer expert who lives in Hays County, says the scammers appear to be working from a detailed list that includes names, cellular and landline telephone numbers, and possibly household income levels.
Woodgate tells News Radio 1200 WOAI the con artists began calling his home earlier this week, first trying to reach his wife on her phone and asking for her by name.
"Then maybe three-quarters of an hour later, my line rings and it is this individual who speaks very clearly and slowly, and very understandable, and he tells me that he is from the Publishers Clearing House and that I have won a million dollars and a Mercedes-Benz," Woodgate says.
The caller, Woodgate says, urged him to go to a nearby pharmacy or big-box retailer and purchase a "vanilla" Visa Gift Card valued at $299.00, which would cover the "mailing list membership."
The phone crook, he says, even offered a media coverage option during the "award delivery."
Suspecting a scam, Woodgate says he asked the "representative" for his PCH corporate phone numbers, which turned out to be false and not in service.
"Then I called his number and that did not answer," says Woodgate, who next contacted local crime prevention officers.
Woodgate says the PCH scam exhibits the elements a sophisticated intelligence gathering operation.
"The way that it was presented, and the way the man spoke, it was obvious to me that he was used to speaking with older people who do not hear all that well. And his enunciation was flawless, and his choice of words was clear, and he used simple words. Is seems to me he was targeting retirees," says Woodgate, who says the scammers have called him several more times this week.
"The way that it was architected, the way that it was structured, it was very leading - but very gently leading," says Woodgate. "If you're not young any more and your attention is not really all that great, he would lull you with his conversation, talking about things that were peripheral to what he wanted."
Woodgate says he eventually tracked one of the numbers to Jamaica, "but I have no way of confirming he was calling me from one of these numbers."
According to scam alerts on the official Publishers Clearing House website, the sweepstakes does not contact winners by telephone.
Victims have reported the PCH phone scam in and around Fort Worth and south along IH-35.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission for some time has been tracking PCH phone scams in their various forms.
For the latest information information on these schemes, log on to: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2018/04/publishers-clearing-house-imposters-keep-coming