Southern Arizona | Investigating 4 You

N4T Investigators: Sweepstakes scheme

TUCSON – Publishers Clearing House says it has given away almost $300 million since 1967. The direct marketing company’s name is being used by scammers who are claiming to be with PCH.

They are calling southern Arizona residents and telling them they’ve won sweepstakes, but first, have to pay taxes and/or a “processing fee.”  One Pima County woman who wants to remain anonymous recently received a call saying she’d won $4.5 million, but had to pay the Internal Revenue Service first. The scammers posed as I.R.S. agents, and the woman lost $165,000.

Here is the most important thing you need to know about this scam: Publishers Clearing House never calls winners; its prize patrol just shows up at their home or office.

Donna McKinnis didn’t fall for a similar scam. The east side resident received a phone call on Sept. 20 from a guy claiming he was affiliated with both a bank and Publishers Clearing House.

“They told me I won $700,000,” McKinnis told the News 4 Tucson Investigators. “And the caller identified himself as with Chase Bank of Los Angeles.”  The guy told Donna she was going to receive a certified check at her bank.

“I think they would have asked me either for my bank account number, or they would have asked me for some kind of service fee, or pay taxes in advance. I was pretty sure something was fishy,” McKinnis said.

Susann Miller of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona says that in 2017, residents of the U.S. and Canada lost more than $117 million in sweepstakes and lottery scams.

“It’s so big that we actually did a research study on it because we received over 2800 reports on our scam tracker,” says Miller.

If you receive a call from anyone claiming to be from Publishers Clearing House, simply hang up the phone. If you get a call from anyone claiming to be from any other sweepstakes or lottery, never divulge any personal or banking information.

Miller said, “the other thing is that they [the supposed winners] always have to pay something to get something, which is the real big red flag here because you never pay taxes before you actually get a prize.”

Donna McKinnis said, “I wish they’d spend their energy on something honest. I think it’s really pathetic.”

The Better Business Bureau says senior citizens are the most frequent targets of the sweepstakes scheme. The BBB’s research study found the scammers most commonly are in Jamaica, Costa Rica and Nigeria. They’re very hard for law enforcement to find because they constantly change phone numbers and locations.

If you have a story you’d like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.

Matthew Schwartz

Matthew Schwartz

Matthew Schwartz has been an investigative reporter since 1993. He specializes in reporting on corruption, fraud and scams.
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