Bamboozled: Turning the tables on a telephone sweepstake scam

Ed Marshall was contacted by a sweepstakes scammer who said Marshall had won $2.5 million and a new Mercedes. M

For the past several years, Ed Marshall has been hounded by telemarketers and scam calls. Just like lots of ot??????????????????her consumers.

It got so bad that he changed his cell phone settings so that incoming calls would only ring one time. If it was an important call, the person would leave a message, he figured.

The telemarketers and scammers tended not to bother.

A few weeks back, someone identifying himself as David Anderson left a message. The call came from California.
“He said it’s a very important phone call. It sounded something like Publishers Clearing House,” said Marshall, 69. “I called him back but I couldn’t understand him because he was apparently on a cell phone that was in a bad area.”

Before long, Anderson called back and left a message.
321Stringing along a sweepstakes scammer
Ed Marshall shares a voice mail from a man who called himself David Anderson. Anderson told Marshall he won $2.5 million and a Mercedes, and Marshall determined the call was from a scammer.
“Yes, Mr. Marshall, this is Mr. David Anderson,” the message began, and the called told Marshall it was “very important” that he call back.

“So have a good day. God bless you. Bye,” Anderson said a the end of the message.

When the two finally talked, Marshall said Anderson shared some good news.

“The bottom line was he said he worked for Publishers Clearing House and I was the lucky winner of $2.5 million and a Mercedes Benz,” Marshall said. “He asked what color I wanted.”

Marshall wasn’t sure what to make of the call — until Anderson shared more news.

“They said they were going to cover $80,000 of the costs and I had to pay $15,000, I guess for taxes,” Marshall said. “My heart sank because I was looking forward to my new Mercedes.”

Marshall knew it was a scam, but he decided to play along.

“I was going to have some fun with this guy, delaying him, giving him excuses, but always holding the bait in front of his eyes,” Marshall said. “As a fisherman, I learned that once you have a fish on the hook, don’t let them go.”

Over the course of several phone calls, Marshall was told to wire the $15,000 using Western Union.

Marshall told him he couldn’t use Western Union. Anderson, at the ready, had another idea.

“He said to go to the bank and get cash and put it in three different envelopes and put inside a magazine,” Marshall said. “I asked where am I supposed to send this, and said to mail it to a Kenneth Anderson.”

And Marshall was given an address in Holmen, Wisconsin, and he was told to contact Anderson when he had the money. He was given a different, no charge phone number.

“Mr. Anderson cautioned me not to tell anyone about the prize,” Marshall said. “I should not tell anyone about this until I have the prize in my hands.”

DIGGING A LITTLE DEEPER

Marshall’s wife got into the act and did a little research.

Through Google searches, she found that Anderson’s town of Holmen happened to be an enclave of people with the same last name.

She also learned one of the phone numbers was associated with a California communications firm, but we haven’t been able to determine whether or not it’s a legitimate company, or if David Anderson simply hijacked a legitimate firm’s phone number.

We found lots of online complaints also associated with the number. One consumer posted that the caller claimed to be from the Treasury Department and that the consumer was being investigated. Another said the caller claimed to be an attorney who had money for the consumer. And there were others.

And sorry to the real David Andersons of the world, but the name happens to be a common one reported by scam targets. Whether or not it’s the same guy or the name is just popular with scammers in general, no one knows. Among the David Anderson complaints? One in which the caller asked for money for business ventures, another offered phony government grants, still another offered fake jobs and one even asked looked for a girlfriend in a suspected dating scam.

Marshall wasn’t quite done stringing this Anderson along. He contacted Anderson again.

“I’m leading the guy on,” he said. “I called the next day that I didn’t have enough money and I had to cash in my IRA… because I love to screw with these guys.”

In the meantime, Marshall contacted Publishers Clearing House, which has a fraud department to handle phony calls like the one Marshall received. Bamboozled profiled a related scam in this space last year.

The company gave Marshall advice that was very similar to what we learned.

Publishers Clearing House, for prizes over $10,000, will always come in person, rather than send you a letter or call on the telephone, the company told Bamboozled.

When they do come in person, Prize Patrol members will always wear blue jackets with official Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol badges. They come is a Prize Patrol van with flowers, champagne, balloons and an oversized check.

There’s no warning. Your win will be a total surprise.

Publishers Clearing House offers warnings about these fakes on its web site, and Marshall’s experience is typical of the frauds.

You can call Publishers Clearing House to verify any prize at 1-800-645-9242. You can call the firm to report a scam at 1-800-392-4190, and you can forward suspicious emails to abuse@pch.com.

Marshall also contacted his local police department and the one where David Anderson appeared to be located.

“They said, ‘We get a couple of these every day,'” he said. “They said, ‘Just tell the guy you did a police report.'”

Marshall did one better the next time he called, but he only got an answering machine.

“I left a message that I was so excited about winning the $2.5 million so I had to share it with my best friends at the police department, the Federal Trade Commission and the FBI.”

Marshall said he never got another call back from the esteemed Mr. Anderson.

No surprise, there.

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com.