On Your Side Alert: Phony PCH Sweepstakes calls

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - There's a warning if you've ever played the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes. Crooks are calling claiming to be with the company. In this recent scheme, they tell you that you're a secondary winner, not the recipient of the big jackpot. A viewer called 12 to warn others after he got the call.

Like most of us, Rubin Unowitz has filled out one of those Publishers Clearing House forms. So, when he got a recent call, claiming to be from the company, he thought he'd hit the jackpot. "They begin to tell me that I am a secondary winner in Virginia, not the major but the secondary winner of 2.5 million dollars. Right away, you go wow and you tell yourself, hmm, not really but you want to pursue it because maybe this is the real thing," he says.

It wasn't the real thing and it didn't take long for Unowitz to figure that out. He caught on when the crooks wanted him to go buy a pre-paid card and pay hundreds of dollars to collect his supposed jackpot. "They tell you that you can buy a card for $899.00, $599.00 or $299.00. They try to get you to do the $299.00 like they are being your friend so you figure this is not too bad, the person is looking out for me," Unowitz explains.

We checked and Publishers is aware of these fraudulent phone scams. There's a warning on its website about this and similar schemes. It reminds consumers that winners are usually notified by mail or in person. A big red flag, the company says you will never have to pay to collect a prize. These criminals are convincing. They tried to reassure Unowitz this wasn't a scam, and even told him not to tell anyone about his big winnings for security purposes. Of course, he didn't fall for it and called 12 to alert others.

"I am a senior citizens and I am also retired and I just don't want people falling for this because everybody gets caught up and thinks oh, my dreams are coming true and I am going to get all this money," Unowitz says. If you get one of these calls, the best thing to do is hang up. PCH says consumers should also be aware of fake emails and phony checks that may show up in their mailbox. If you're ever in doubt if you hit it big, the folks at publishers can solve the mystery. You can report scams to PCH, the number is 1-800-645-9242.

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