THE INVESTIGATORS: Port Allen woman loses hundreds of dollars in Publisher’s Clearing House scam

THE INVESTIGATORS: BBB issues strong warning after Port Allen woman falls victim to scam, loses hundreds of dollars

PORT ALLEN, La. (WAFB) - A Port Allen woman was swindled out of $939 after she says scammers made her believe she had won big from Publisher’s Clearing House.

It was supposed to be the answer to her prayers and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the woman who did not want to be identified. It all happened two weeks ago, after entering what she thought was a PCH contest on Facebook.

“Oh yes... I was gone pay off everything,” she said. “Then I get a call saying that I had won money and a new vehicle and stuff like that.”

She claims the person on the other end of the line told her she had won $2.9 million and a 2020 Mercedes. Not long after she was told she had won, she tells the 9News Investigators the calls started rolling in, telling her she needed to do one more thing in order to claim her prize. At first, the woman says she needed to pay $200 to cash her check. Later, she was told it would take another $200 to cover taxes.

Just when she thought her payout and car were on the way, the woman was told she just needed $300 extra to get the right trailer in order to ship the car. More than $900 later, the alarm bells started to go off, but only after she had bought four different prepaid debit cards and handed the account numbers over to people she thought were representatives with PCH. Without her prize money or her Mercedes, the woman is now left heartbroken.

“At the time, I didn’t think it was a scam,” she said. “I just wanted to believe it so much.”

It did turn out to be a scam and it’s happening more often than anyone might think. Executive director with the Better Business Bureau, Carmen Million, says unfortunately, that money is long gone.

“In most cases, consumers who’ve paid out money to these scammers will never get a return,” said Million.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked Million if she could identify what allows folks to get sucked into a scam like this one.

“What happens is they’ve already sent a certain amount of money and I always relate it to like a gambling issue,” Million responded. “You put a quarter in the slot and you’re going to put on more, thinking that you’ll get your money back because if you keep that line of connection with them, there’s always that opportunity in your mind that you’re going to get it back or you’re actually going to win the money.”

It’s a dangerous cycle Million says often lures people into becoming victims. Almost eight months into the pandemic, with more folks working from home, Million says it’s actually a lot easier for scammers to come between consumers and their money.

“More people are accessible,” said Million. “In the past, it was just people who were at home that they would catch off guard, but now, most people are working from home, so the group of potential victims has grown extremely large.”

Million says the folks at PCH will never call winners and another red flag is that folks should not have to pay anything if they’ve won something. In this case, it turns out the folks calling this woman were not from the company at all. Instead, the number was from Kingston, Jamaica.

“They won’t stop calling me,” the woman said.

After the woman pushed back, she says the calls increased in number, and when she wouldn’t pay any more money, the woman says that’s when the threats started. The victim says she even got a call from a different number saying she needed to pay up to the IRS for the money she supposedly won. Million calls it common and says once they get folks to fall for it the first time, scammers will not give up until they get more of your cash into their pockets. She says the best thing to do is just not answer.

“If you continue to answer the phone and talk to them, then they’re going to continue to call you,” said Million.

While she’s kicking herself now for not noticing all the warning signs, the woman just hopes she can help someone else avoid such a scam.

“I just don’t want other people to get caught up like I did,” she said. “You want to believe it so much, but in the end, you come to find out it was just a scam, you know, it hurts.”

Anyone who thinks they may have become a victim of a scam is encouraged to report using the BBB scam tracker.

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