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New scammers impersonate Publishers Clearing House

If it's spring, then it must be time for the annual Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes. It's likely that both your brick-and-mortar mailbox and virtual inbox have been crammed with notifications that urge you to respond to the big giveaway.

If it seems as if you've gotten even more notices this year than in others, you may be onto something — a scam.

Chances are good you're not the winner

While it's true that somebody has to win these sweepstakes, the chances are astronomical that it will not be you. Still, it doesn't hurt to dream about the freedom and the fun such riches could bring you.

That's exactly what the fraudsters are counting on when they portray themselves as Publishers Clearing House officials. You open a letter or take a call announcing that you've won the grand prize or a lesser, yet still substantial, sum of money. But there's a catch.

In order to cash in on your winnings, they'll say, you need only to pony up the taxes and fees the winnings have generated. Scammers will ask you to wire funds to cover these expenses. Some even bizarrely request gift cards in lieu of wire transfers. Some of the hopeful but gullible "marks" will sadly fall for this scam. They might as well wave bye-bye to their hard-earned funds.

But wait — there's more

Another version of this scheme is to mail out very realistic-appearing "checks" that the targets are told to deposit. All they have to do then is send a few hundred (or thousand) dollars back to cover expenses.

The check might initially even appear to clear your bank — but before long will sadly bounce right back to you. But not before you're out the cash for those "expenses."

Consumers should realize that if you have to pay money to win something, it's the hallmark of a scam. You should immediately report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Are you the victim of an online marketing scam? There are steps that you can take to legally pursue the return of your money.

Source: Federal Trade Commission, "Publishers Clearing House imposters keep coming," Emma Fletcher, April 24, 2018

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