Falling Victim to a Sweepstakes Scam

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    NEWSLETTERS

    "Why'd I believe them? I don't know why I believed them,” said Cheshire resident Karen SantaMaria.

    Hindsight is 20/20 for Karen, by all accounts a savvy 63-year-old. She fell victim to the latest way scammers are targeting seniors—hook, line, and $1300 sinker.

    "I let myself be suckered, OK. I wanted to believe it.  But if it seems too good to be true, and I've always said this, it's not true,” said Karen.

    It all started with a phone call from someone claiming to be with Publishers Clearinghouse.  Karen was told she’d won more than $1 million! She was skeptical, but she’s been entering Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes for years.  Plus, after a recent battle with breast cancer, Karen could use the money.  It came with one catch: a nearly $500 “processing” fee.  And the callers wanted payment in the form of a Green Dot MoneyPak card.

    "And you'd never heard of these MoneyPak cards before?" asked Troubleshooter Sabina Kuriakose.

    "Never. Not before last Wednesday,” answered Karen.

    MoneyPak cards are touted as a convenient alternative to cash.  Consumers buy the cards and use them to reload prepaid debit cards.  But thieves are taking advantage—and it’s easier than you think. Karen bought the MoneyPak card at Walmart in Waterbury.  She loaded it with cash, but then the caller wanted nearly $800 more!

    The con artists asked for the serial number that comes on the back of every MoneyPak card.  That’s the key—that number provides immediate access to the funds on that card.  Once the scammers have that number, the money is as good as gone.  Law enforcement said this kind of scam is a growing concern.  Callers usually target the elderly.

    "Unfortunately, a lot of these scams are from other countries and there's nothing we can do once money is transferred,” said Lt. James Fasano of the Cheshire Police, “before we even know about it, the money is gone."

    With no way to get it back.  MoneyPak cards don’t have fraud protection.  The company states it plainly on its website: “If you give your MoneyPak number to a criminal, Green Dot is not responsible to pay you back.  Your MoneyPak is not a bank account.”

    When the callers kept asking for more money, Karen finally called the cops.  It was too late.  She’d already lost close to $1300.

    "Stupid. That's all I can say,” said Karen, describing how she felt.

    She’s coming forward now so others don’t fall victim to the same scheme.  In a statement to the Troubleshooters, Green Dot says “We urge consumers to protect their MoneyPak number just as they would cash and remind customers to only use MoneyPak with approved partners. Never give the number to a private individual..."

    Publishers Clearinghouse told us they are aware of these scams.  In a statement a spokeswoman said “At Publishers Clearing House no payment is ever necessary to claim a prize.  If someone contacts you about winning a prize and requests that you send or wire money, a green dot card, or make any type of payment whatsoever - STOP - you have not heard from the real Publishers Clearing House."

    It’s a lesson Karen learned the hard way.  Her best tip for others: just hang up!