Scammers appear to be targeting veterans and military families claiming they have won a sweepstakes from Stars and Stripes, but The Rumor Doctor is here to blow the lid off this sham.
At least two Stars and Stripes readers have received phone calls recently saying that they had won the Stars and Stripes sweepstakes and asking for money so they can collect their prize, but the newspaper is not running any kind of sweepstakes, said Marketing Director Meg Irish.
"We do run promotions from time to time, offering modest prizes to our readership, but never have we offered prizes of this magnitude — and we never ask for personal information other than name and e-mail or phone number," Irish told The Rumor Doctor in an email. "Our news organization has no affiliation with this outfit and had never heard of them until we received a call from one of our customers.”
About two weeks ago, Richard Oakley got a call from a man claiming to be with the Federal Trade Commission, who said Oakley had won $470,000 from the Stars and Stripes sweepstakes. The man knew that Oakley is a veteran, a senior citizen and that his daughter is in the Army.
All he needed to do to collect the money was write a check for $3,500, said the man, who went by the name Jim Hart. The man even gave his badge number, a tipoff that this was a scam because FTC agents don't have badges.
Oakley volunteered to drive to Washington to pick up the check in order to avoid paying the $3,500 in delivery and insurance charges, but the man suddenly changed his story.
"They said, 'Oh no, this is part of the sweepstakes rules that it has to be delivered to you by a federal carrier,' which was Global Fed Mail, but registered and insured through a subsidiary company of Lloyds of London," said Oakley, who did not send any money and reported the scam to the real FTC.
This fraud fits the pattern of other scams in which callers pretend to be from the FTC and claim that you have won a sweepstakes.
"No matter how convincing the impersonation, never send money to claim a prize," according to the FTC website. "No FTC employee will ever call to ask you to send money. Legitimate sweepstakes companies won’t either. Nevertheless, many consumers and their families have sent money and lost it before recognizing this as a scam and reporting it."
An FTC spokesman declined to talk specifically about this scam.
The man who called Oakley gave him a number for Stars and Stripes. When Oakley called, the woman who answered gave the same story as Jim Hart. Surprisingly, no one wanted to talk when The Rumor Doctor called.
When The Rumor Doctor asked to talk to a supervisor, he was connected to someone who claimed to be a receptionist, put on hold and then disconnected. The Rumor Doctor tried calling back twice, but technical issues on their end prevented him from reaching anyone or leaving a message.
THE RUMOR DOCTOR'S DIAGNOSIS: Don't trust anyone who calls to say you've won the Stars and Stripes sweepstakes. Be especially careful because these scammers have done their homework on their victims. The FTC needs to size these guys for a pair of handcuffs.