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Local woman nearly duped by possible check scam

Posted: April 18, 2009 11:07 p.m.
Updated: April 19, 2009 4:30 a.m.
A copy of the letter a local resident recieved claiming  to be with Publishers Clearing House that promises to award prize money. A copy of the letter a local resident recieved claiming  to be with Publishers Clearing House that promises to award prize money.
A copy of the letter a local resident recieved claiming  to be with Publishers Clearing House that promises to award prize money.

A Valencia woman believes that an attempt was made to victimize her 95-year-old mother in a scam masquarading as the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes.

Nancylee Siwula said her mother, Catherine Adamson, “got all excited” when she received a $5,109 check claiming to be from Publishers Clearing House.

An accompanying letter said Adamson was a second-place winner in a grand-prize drawing sponsored by Reader’s Digest Magazine.

The total amount to be claimed was $1 million, the official-looking letter read.

“My mother was a couple minutes short of endorsing the check and depositing it,” Siwula said.

But she and her husband, Michael, discovered a consumer notice on Publishers Clearing House’s Web site warning of  checks and letters almost identical to the one Adamson received.

Part of the August 2008 alert reads:

“Publishers Clearing House wants to warn about scam artists sending out real-looking checks in an attempt to get you to send money. ... Scam artists send you an official-looking letter claiming to be from a legitimate sweepstakes. The letter encloses a real-looking check that may appear legitimate. Even your bank may be fooled.”

Margaret Crossan, senior manager of consumer affairs for Publishers Clearing House, said the company is aware such scams have been going on and is continuously working with a safe-check task force to shut down such trouble makers.

The letter Adamson received asked her to contact a Mr. Evan Mansfield before depositing the check.
Siwula said she called the number for her mother but never received a return call.

On Thursday, Mansfield answered the call of a Signal reporter and, when asked, claimed he was a legitimate Publishers Clearing House lead representative.

“I’m confirming to you that this (sweepstakes) is legitimate,” Mansfield said. He said he is part of the “price claim department.” Mansfield then declined to say what Adamson would be asked to do with the check.

But Crossan confirmed the company knows of no such employee.

“There’s no Evan Mansfield at the real Publishers Clearing House,” Crossan said. “The check is counterfeit.”

“It’s very problematic,” Crossan added. “They’re using well-recognized-branded names like Oprah Winfrey, Reader’s Digest or Martha Stewart. But they are all scams and they are not coming from Publishers Clearing House.”

According to the consumer alert, the checks are bogus.

“It could appear money is in the account,” Crossan said. “But there’s no such money because they are fake checks.”

The letter says that consumers could be told that the initial check is a deposit, and that they should return a portion of the check as a fee or tax. When that money is received, they are told, additional funds will be sent, according to the consumer alert.

“Whatever the set-up, the results are the same. After you wire a portion of money back you find out that the check or money order has bounced. Consumers should remember that when the check or money order bounces, they will owe the bank the money while the scammer will walk away with any money wired back,” the report says.

Crossan confirmed Thursday afternoon that a Publishers Clearing House team had the number found on Adamson’s letter shut down. Publishers Clearing House hires a company that protects brand names to shut down phone numbers illegally using their name, Crossan said. 

“So they won’t be duping anymore consumers pretending to be Publishers Clearing House, at least not at that number,” she said.

As of Friday, when a Signal reporter called the number, the message said, “The number you have dialed has been disconnected or is no longer in service. Please check the number and dial again.”

Siwula said she is glad she and her husband were skeptical.

“If it looks too good to be true, it probably is,” she said. “But what do you do if you don’t have family or something to go through this?”



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