KALAMAZOO, Mich. — A Kalamazoo man is out more than $70,000 after falling for a sweepstakes scam.
He did not want to go on camera about this, but his daughter did to help make sure that other families do not become the next victim.
“The way he described it they were so excited about it and got him excited about it,” said Kathy Chapman.
Her father, Rick, got the call in January.
Scammers told him he’d just won $2.5 million in the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes drawing, along with a new blue BMW and some gold medallions.
“And he needed to pay some taxes and fees before they could deliver his prize to him. Then just over the next few days, he was instructed exactly what to do, how to send the money, where to go,” said Kathy.
The scammers told him to withdraw the money from various locations where he banked. Then instructed him to open up a new savings account and name it a beneficiary account.
“He withdrew money from his existing checking and savings but also transferred large sums into this new account,” said Kathy, “and was instructed to withdraw money from various investments—his life insurance and annuities—and once he got that money to deposit it into this beneficiary account, turn around and withdraw large sums of cash and mail those to an address in Mississippi.”
The family didn’t find out about it until a week later after the credit union alerted police about the withdrawals.
Kathy also got a call from officers telling her that her 84-year-old father was taking out more money from another branch.
“I got really scared,” said Kathy. “I said, ‘There’s something terrible going on.’ And what was in my head was that there was somebody at his home with a gun to his head making him go out and taking out these large withdrawals and bring it back to them.”
Kathy’s dad lived alone following the death of his wife a few months before. He was with police when she got another call about a big withdrawal.
“They put my dad on the phone and I said, ‘Dad, what’s going on?’ And he just kept insisting it was a surprise. ‘I can’t tell you. I’m OK, you don’t need to worry about it—it’s a big surprise.’ And I said, ‘No, you have to tell me what’s going on—this makes no sense.’”
He finally told her about the sweepstakes, and she knew he’d fallen for a scam.
Doctors checked out his mental health and found nothing wrong.
“So honest his whole life, so hardworking, never looking for an easy way out, so for them to convince him that he needed to do this just floors me that he would believe this,” said Kathy.
Unfortunately, her father is not alone.
The Better Business Bureau is looking into several of these scams that have really ramped up during the pandemic.
A majority of scams target people who are 55 or older, and 90 percent of them are losing money to it.
Sometimes scammers use the names of legit brands like PCH.
“And so, people are like, 'Yeah, this sounds great. I’ve won millions of dollars, I won a car, I’ve won valuable collector’s items,' and all these scammers are asking for in return is a simple shipping fee,” said Katie Grevious, a communications specialist with the BBB.
Those scammers sometimes ask for hundreds if not thousands of dollars, usually on gift cards or wire transfer. The problem is, they’re not real.
“And a lot of scammers are out there kind of mimicking popular grab,” said Grevious. “’Hey, you won Amazon ear pods, just send us the shipping,' or 'You’ve won this Facebook contest,’ and one of the big red flag is, did you even enter that contest?”
The BBB shares the following ways to tell fake sweepstakes and lottery offers from real ones:
- True lotteries or sweepstakes don’t ask for money. If someone wants money for taxes, themselves, or a third party, they are most likely crooks.
- You have to enter to win. To win a lottery, you must buy a lottery ticket. To win a sweepstakes or prize, you must have entered first. If you can’t remember doing so, that’s a red flag.
- Call the sweepstakes company directly to see if you won. Publishers Clearing House (PCH) does not call people in advance to tell them they’ve won. Report PCH imposters on their website. Check to see if you have actually won at 800-392-4190.
- Check to see if you won a lottery. If you are told you’ve won a lottery, call the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries at 440-361-7962 or your local state lottery agency to confirm it.
- Do an internet search of the company, name, or phone number of the person who contacted you. Check BBB Scam Tracker to see if other consumers have had similar experiences.
- Law enforcement officials do not call and award prizes. Verify the identity of the caller and do not send money until you do.
- Talk to a trusted family member or your bank. They may be able to help. You also can call your local BBB office for help in identifying a scam.
Kathy hopes others learn from her father’s situation so it doesn’t happen to them.
“If something like that happens, it’s so easy with today’s technology to verify it. So, if you just get their name and number and say, ‘Let me check it out’ and 'Let me get back to you.' And if somebody refuses to allow you to do that, then you know it’s a scam,” said Kathy.
Kathy says her dad got dozens of calls daily from unknown and unlisted numbers.
He ended up sending bundles of cash in the mail totaling $72,000.
If you think you have been a target of lottery/sweepstakes fraud, file a report with:
- BBB Scam Tracker, or contact your local BBB
- Federal Trade Commission (FTC), or call 877-FTC-Help
- U.S. Postal Inspection Service has experts to help with chronic sweepstakes scam victims and can be reached at 1-877-876-2455 or uspis.gov
- Senate Subcommittee on Aging Fraud Hotline: call 1-855-303-9470; or aging.senate.gov/fraud-hotlineto leave an online request for someone to contact you
- Adult Protective Services: local help at elderjustice.gov for vulnerable or older adult victims
- Western Union: 1-800-448-1492; file a complaint at westernunion.com
- MoneyGram: 1-800-926-9400; report a problem at moneygram.com
- Green Dot: 1-866-795-7597; contact greendot.com
- Facebook: log reports of log reports of hacked or fake profiles