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Sweepstakes scam targets local woman

By Katie Demeria

Virginia Brinson of Strasburg received a letter boasting the names of several reputable companies informing her that she had won over $2 million. In reality, those responsible for sending the letter were trying to steal her money.

Brinson received several letters earlier this month with the Publisher's Clearing House logo at the top. It claims to involve three well-known sweepstakes companies, but changes the names slightly: Publishers Clearing House is listed as Publishing Clearing House, Reader's Digest is Reader Digest, and Mega Millions is only Mega Million.

Brinson said she recognized the fake names. She took the first check she received to her bank, Wells Fargo in Front Royal.

It was there that she was told the checks would probably drain her account.

"They told me that if I put the check in the bank, [the scammers] would be able to close the account," Brinson said.

Brittany Cook, an employee at the Wells Fargo branch, said the scammers would have access to the account information if another employee had not stopped Brinson from depositing the check.

"It's not even a good fake," Cook said after inspecting the check.

Certain details prove the check does not come from a reputable bank. Branch Manager Shelly Williams said all checks include routing and account numbers printed in magnetic ink. When depositing checks, tellers run them through machines that read that ink.

If a bad check gets through, though, Cook said those who made the check could have access to the account.

"It happens to more people than you think," she said.

Those responsible for sending Brinson the fraudulent checks also called her several times, always claiming to be from different companies and different areas, but she said she could always recognize the same man's voice.

"He told me to call him as soon as I put the money into the bank account," she said.

The letter Brinson received with the note warns against telling others about the supposed winnings.

"You are precluded from discussing your win with 3rd parties such as (family members, friends and relatives)," the letter states.

Publishers Clearing House has a section of its website devoted to fraud protection. Usually, frauds include asking the individuals to send their own money somewhere under the pretense of receiving a greater amount of money in return.

According to Publishers Clearing House, sometimes the scam will include depositing a fake check, then when the check bounces those responsible will ask the individual to send a portion of the winnings back so they can then send the rest of the money.

"They hope that if you believe the check is real you'll be willing to send money back," the website states.

It adds that illegally using the Publishers Clearing House name, or a version of it, is part of the scammer's attempt to build trust.

Scams specifically involved Publishers Clearing House have been reported throughout the country, according to the Better Business Bureau.

The BBB has issued various news releases warning individuals about the scams, which, as in Brinson's case, include letters and phone calls.

Publishers Clearing House's website urges anyone who believes they are the potential victims of a scam to visit the National Fraud Center at www.fraud.org.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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