Richard Elfers is a columnist, a former Enumclaw City Council member and a Green River College professor.

Richard Elfers is a columnist, a former Enumclaw City Council member and a Green River College professor.

Fake sweepstake scams

P.T. Barnum was quoted to say “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Don’t be one of them.

Have you ever been notified by phone that you won a Publishing House Sweepstakes prize?

I have.

I’ve been called over a dozen times. The phone calls always start by greeting me, calling me “Mr. Richard” and asking me how I am doing. The next thing that happens is that they tell me I have won the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes award.

My question to them is, “How much did I win?” Their answers have varied from between $380,000 to $100 million.

“I never entered the sweepstakes, why would I win a cash reward?” They tell me I automatically was entered.

At this point I say, “I don’t want the money. Why don’t you keep it?” Then I hang up.

Has this happened to you? I think I get these calls because we still have a landline—a sure sign of someone who is old. I’ve never been called on my cell phone.

According to the Federal Trade Commission “Consumer Information” website, if I were to stay on the phone, the caller would ask me to pay money via my credit card information to get the award sent to me or to give them my bank account information to get the prize. They would also tell me that I needed to act now to gain my prize. If any caller tells you that you must act quickly, you know it’s a scam.

I’ve also been called and told numerous times that my Amazon account has been hacked and that I must act to avoid having money stolen from me. Others have claimed that they’re Social Security and that my account has been breached. To avoid losing my pension I must follow their direction. These calls are usually recordings, so I just hang up.

Since the pandemic, numerous construction companies have called us, asking whether we have any home improvement or remodels that we would like to have done. Sometimes they’re legitimate, but I always go to the Better Business Bureau website to see if the calling company is listed and what rating it has. If they’re not listed on the BBB, I won’t use them. If their rating was revoked as happened to me once, I don’t use them. I always look for bids as comparisons.

At other times, I’ve been notified that my computer has a problem and that I need to connect to their service to get whatever problem I supposedly have fixed. After getting permission, they are able to take control of the computer screen. Never give up control of your computer to an outside agency. Legitimate companies can see your computer screen, but they will direct you to make fixes. They won’t take over your screen.

It’s a different story if you call the merchant or repair company since you know the company, but sometimes phone numbers are close to the actual legitimate company and if you misdial you get the phony scammer instead of the company you thought you called.

I’ve also learned not to believe all the ads that come before YouTube videos. These promotional ads are often outright lies, especially if they promise that if you use their product, you will lose weight or get fit without exercise.

I ask myself, why are there so many scam phone calls? Scams have certainly increased over the years. Fear is used to drive people to send money, like fear of losing your pension or having a merchant account or credit card breached. They are playing upon our greed and/or naïveté to get us to give them either information or money. They’re also figuring the odds. If only 2-3 percent of those called are suckered by a scammer, that makes continuing the calling profitable. These scams wouldn’t be multiplying if they didn’t work.

We are living in an age when our previous president openly lied and told the public that the election was rigged unless he won. We have a major political party who brings to question our whole election process. They have passed laws that make it harder for certain minorities to vote. No wonder we have commercial scammers who have followed their example. Our only real defense is to become more discerning, to learn to be critical thinkers.

Scammers are the new thieves. They aren’t hiding in the bushes along major thoroughfares as they did during the Middle Ages. They are lurking in our electronic devices seeking those whom they can devour.

P.T. Barnum is quoted to have said “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Don’t be one of them.


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