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Residents warned of prize scam phone calls

Thursday, April 12, 2012

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Most Americans have heard of contests and sweepstakes for prize money, including the well-known Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes. Unfortunately, not all of these contests are legitimate.

Recently, numerous residents of Sharp County were targeted by a cell phone scam on April 5 that was one of these scams.

At least 10 people reported being contacted about winning money and a car, if they would send money to claim their prize.

An "Agent Malone" contacted Terri Bennett, a Sharp County resident on her personal cell phone. He informed her she had won $250,000 and a new car. In order to claim the prize, Bennett was told that she first must send a Western Union Money Gram for $300 to a designated location, and gave her a number to call.

Other reports in areas such as Pennsylvania and Georgia indicate the same type of scam, but the scammers are requesting the victim send prepaid gift cards and cashier's checks, rather than wiring money.

When calling the number given by the scammer, there is no answer. Instead, the "winners" are called back hours later -- allowing time for the excitement of the possibility of becoming rich to escalate.

Bennett said she was suspicious, but also wanted to know more. After taking down all the information, and obtaining a money gram, she decided not to send the funds.

Bennett was given directions to send the money to a person in Jamaica. The caller explained the money would be reimbursed when the group came to present her the check and car.

Bennett said she was also told the IRS would be present, further attempting to gain her confidence. She took the information to the Sharp County Sheriff's Department.

Unfortunately, Bennett wasn't the first one to have made the same complaint.

The same day, Toni Phillips, who was also targeted, brought identical information to the sheriff's department.

The number from which the contact was received was the same for both women.

Two calls were also made about the same scam to Sharp County Central Dispatch. Three others called the Villager Journal to make reports of the "prize" calls.

Arkansas State Police Sergeant Mack Thompson, his wife and sister-in -law also received the calls.

Thompson said, when the call came through it was similar to the others, and when he identified himself as a police officer, the caller immediately disconnected.

Research on the scam indicates it is occurring in many states, and the base for all the calls seems to be Jamaica.

As with any type of lottery or legitimate winning, representatives never require winners to submit money.

If the lottery or sweepstakes is legitimate, any fees are typically deducted from the winnings.

By using common sense and realizing if it is too good to be true, it probably is, always exercise caution whenever someone asks for personal information, bank or credit card numbers for winnings from something that you do not recall entering.



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