FAIRMONT - Callers claiming to be from the Publisher's Clearinghouse sweepstakes have targeted area residents with promises of big money. But, according to the Fairmont Police Department, it is the latest fraud making the rounds.
"We've seen similar scams before," said Fairmont Police Officer Jaime Bleess. "But our banks and our Western Union outlets have gotten good about stopping people and questioning them about where they send their money."
Unfortunately, the scammers have adapted.
"There have been reports of callers claiming to be from Publisher's Clearinghouse," Bleess said. "What they have you do is they tell you that you've won, and they want you to purchase a gift card for $200 to $1,000, and they keep you on the line while you drive to the store and get the card. They then ask for the pin number, stating they're going to put the winnings on it. But instead they drain the money on the card, and the victim is out that money."
Because gift cards are commonplace, it usually doesn't alert cashiers when people grab one and load it up with a cash amount.
Bleess said that any sweepstakes in which you have to pay any sort of fee to receive your winnings is probably a scam.
"Any sweepstakes in the nation, in order to be legal, cannot charge money to be a winner," he said. "If you read all that fine print in those contests, you see 'no purchase necessary.' Because that's the law."
Bleess also pointed out that legitimate sweepstakes don't cold call out of the blue.
"If you don't remember signing up, you probably didn't," he said.
The regular precautions in dealing with suspicious phone calls still apply, as in not giving out any valuable information such as Social Security numbers or financial information.
"There's something about Minnesota nice," Bleess said. "But it's OK to hang up on a scammer."
Finally, if a caller is attempting to intimidate or threaten you, it's only more proof that it's a fraud.
"When not getting their way, they may resort to using profane language," Bleess admitted. "That's a dead giveaway."
More information on phone scams and how to deal with them are available at the Fairmont Police Department Web site: fairmontpolice.org