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Scam alert: you didn’t win Publishers’ Clearinghouse

If you get a phone call telling you that you've won millions of dollars from Publishers' Clearinghouse, hang up.

That's the advice of Margaret Crossan, who works in the PCH consumer affairs department.

"This happens to be National Consumer Protection Week," she said. "Winning is always free. We work very closely with law enforcement and consumer protection bureaus. We also work with the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Postal Service. We work with attorneys general in all 50 states."

The scam works like this: you get a phone call from someone telling you that you have won several million dollars and a new car. But in order to claim that prize, you'll need to wire a "processing fee." Most likely, the caller will have a bland and common name like "David Miller," and be calling from area code 876.

If the scammer gives you a number to call, don't. You are likely to be charged from $10 to $100 per minute, even if the number has an American area code.

"They could be using technology to make it look as though you're calling a number in the United States," said Crossan.

When someone truly wins a Publishers' Clearinghouse prize, she said, winners are notified in the way depicted on the commercials:  in person by the prize patrol.

"No telephone calls and no email," Crossan said, "and no purchase is necessary to win. We don't ask you for money. We're the ones giving you the money."

Scammers look for people to make instant decisions without giving the matter much thought. For those who demand more information, according to the Federal Trade Commission, there is often a bogus website featuring fake "satisfied customers."
Should you be a target of a scammer, here are a few red flags:

"You've been specially selected." (for this offer); "You'll get a free bonus if you buy our product"; "You've won one of five valuable prizes"; and the ever-popular "You've won big money in a foreign lottery."

The FTC advises declining the offer, hanging up, and filing a formal complaint with the commission.

Vermont is not immune. Back in December, state Attorney General William Sorrell issued a statement saying phone fraud scams were on the rise, and listed some of the more common ones:

Imposter scams, in which the victim receives a call from someone claiming to be a loved one in trouble in a foreign county. The scammer asks for money by wire transfer.
Advanced fee loan scams, in which the scammer asks for a small fee in exchange for a large loan, even if you have bad credit. Sorrell's office says these offers are fraudulent.
A variation on that is the online loan scam, in which targets are directed to apply for a loan via a website. Most of these are not associated with a legitimate bank and they can share your information with other scammers. Sorrell's office said some consumers report receiving unlawful loans (such as high interest payday loans) through the site as well as threatening fake collection calls.
There is also a phishing scam claiming to offer a free security system for a monthly service fee, and another one promising to reduce the interest rates on your credit card.
These are only some of the possible scams out there. For information and to file a complaint, the Federal Trade Commission Web site is In Vermont, the Consumer Assistance Program can be reached at 1-800-649-2424.