(CBS) — Who hasn’t received a sweepstakes entry in the mail and wondered: What if I really won?
It’s that hope that scammers are using to steal millions of dollars a year. CBS 2’s Pam Zekman investigates.
Somebody told Michelle Abers’ mother, Meredith Fritz, she had won $2.5 million through the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes.
Fritz, 84, suspected it was a scam and called her daughter.
Albers then called the supposed prize company back, pretending to be her mother and asking how she could claim prize.
Yes, she was attempting to con the con man.
“Will Ed McMahon come with a giant check and 2 dozen roses?” Albers, posing as her mother, asked the con artist. “And he said, ‘Oh, yes, yes.’”
They told her the “prize patrol” was just 30 minutes away and would arrive at her front door, but first they told her: “Go to western union and take out a money order for $950.”
The money was supposedly a processing fee for the big prize.
That’s a sure sign of fraud, say Chris Irving of Publishers Clearing House.
“If you’ve been contacted by someone who says you’ve won a prize, but you have to send money, it’s not the real prize,” he says.
Irving says scammers use the Publishers Clearing House name because they and their prize patrol are so well known.
“It causes us great concern and we are taking many actions to try and stop these criminals and educate consumers not to lose any money,” Irving adds.
In the last two years, the Federal Trade Commission has logged 250,000 complaints about scams using the Publishers Clearing House name, costing consumers $38 million dollars.
“They want to believe that they won, and it’s sometimes hard for people like us to convince them that they haven’t won,” the FTC’s Todd Kossow says.
The 2 Investigators were with Albers when she called the supposed prize company back, but they changed their tune when Zekman got on the line and identified herself.
“No, no, no, no, no you have the wrong person, were not giving away $2 ½ million,” the man on the phone said before hanging up.
“To prey on the elderly is just horrible,” Albers says.
Another red flag: Ed McMahon died about a decade ago and never in fact worked for Publishers Clearing House.
The company says if you get one of these calls, you should let them know and contact law enforcement.
To file a complaint with the FTC, click here.