Police, auditor warn of scams

Salem Police and the city Auditor’s Office are warning residents to be wary of a recent scam where the caller claims to be with Publishers Clearing House, tells the potential victim they’ve won a huge prize, then asks them to pay money to receive their winnings.

“If you didn’t enter the contest, you didn’t win anything,” Lt. Don Beeson said Thursday.

Sue Laughlin of the city auditor’s office said she received a call at home after 10 p.m. Wednesday from a caller claiming to be from Publishers Clearing House who said she had won $2 million and a 2012 Mercedes Benz. She said she was skeptical and figured it was a scam, but listened to what he had to say.

He said she would need to go to a CVS Pharmacy and wire $350.49 and asked if she would be using cash or a debit/credit card, so she went along and told him cash. He then asked if she preferred the prize presentation be private and confidential or public and she said private, with him telling her not to tell anyone about it. The prize was going to be delivered on Thursday.

She told him she couldn’t go to CVS Pharmacy since it was late and she had to work and told him she wouldn’t be available until next week. He told her that was too long to wait and asked if she could go to Walmart on Thursday after work. She told him she would call him back Thursday and he gave her a number to call, which she put in her cell designated as scam.

On Thursday, he called her on her cell phone and she let it ring and he called back two more times. Beeson came up to the second floor of city hall to check the police mailbox and she told him all about it. He said he would talk to the person if he called back, so when the person called again, Beeson answered the phone.

Beeson said he told the man Sue was with him and she would be glad to provide the money if they delivered the car and the cash prize to Salem Police headquarters. The man immediately hung up and she received no more calls.

According to Beeson, this type of scam has been around a long time and he would rather residents come and talk to the police or family members if they’re in doubt. He said they should never give out banking information or personal information and should not wire money or give credit card information to receive an alleged prize.

He recalled one case where a family was told they had won a huge prize, but needed to send money right away to secure their winnings. The family borrowed the requested amount from a bank and sent a money gram which was later traced to Canada, then to Israel. They were out the money.

“Once it’s wired out of the country, you’re done,” he said, adding they talk to people about this sort of thing all the time. “If in doubt, hang up. There’s no quick riches in this world.”

Beeson said he doesn’t mind talking to people about a possible scam or looking at material they may have received in the mail or in an email.

“I’d rather talk to people for a few minutes rather than see them in a situation where they lose their savings,” he said.

Laughlin and city Auditor Betty Brothers both thought it was good idea to shine a light on the situation and let residents know what’s out there. Laughlin said she called the real Publishers Clearing House and talked to their fraud hotline, learning that they report complaints like this to the Federal Trade Commission.

“People need to be diligent,” Laughlin said.

Brothers worked in banking for years and said banks never ask for personal information over the phone and have training in watching out for large withdrawals from customers and how to watch for signs of a possible scam situation. She said reputable businesses don’t ask for a customer’s information over the phone.

A Perry Township resident reported the same scam earlier this week. Anyone receiving a similar call should hang up and contact their local police department if they’re uncertain and suspect a possible scam.

Mary Ann Greier can be reached at mgreier@salemnews.net