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April 1, 2014

Jamaican-based scam making rounds in North Alabama

Larry Folds of Cullman received a phone call last week from Kingston, Jamaica, notifying him he had won a Mercedes- Benz, $3.5 million and $50,000 month for the rest of his life through Publishers’ Clearing House.

The only hitch was the caller asked him to first wire $5,595 through Western Union at Walmart for “insurance” on his prize.

“He never said who I was suppose to send the money to,” Folds said. “I hung up on the man — he said his name was Michael Anderson — but then he called me back and started cussing me so I hung up on him again.”

In recent weeks, North Alabama residents have reported bogus sweepstake and lottery calls to Better Business Bureau on a daily basis, BBB officials said.

One of the more common scams involves someone alleging to represent Publisher’s Clearing House (PCH). Typically, the caller congratulates you on winning a large amount of money — as much as $2 million, and in some cases a car as well. You are told that you must first pay a fee or taxes before the prizes can be delivered.

PCH reports they do not call anyone to notify them that they’ve won money, according to the BBB. Instead, if you've won less than $600, a check is mailed. If you've won between $601 and $10,000, an affidavit is mailed, which must be completed and returned. After the information has been verified, a check is sent by mail to the winner. If you've won more than $10,000, the prize patrol delivers the money in person.

Often calls originate from an 876 area code, which is the area code for Kingston, Jamaica. In other cases, the callers mask their real number by spoofing caller ID with a number that is not a currently working number. This makes it much more difficult for law enforcement to track down the source of calls.

“Jamaica is becoming a very popular place for scams like this to originate,” said Tricia Pruitt, regional vice president of the Better Business Bureau of North Alabama.

In some cases, residents report receiving a sweepstake or lottery notification in the mail. These notifications typically come with a check that is made payable to the recipient for thousands of dollars. Recipients are asked to cash the checks and wire at least part of the funds back to the senders. Unfortunately, these checks always prove to be counterfeit, and the people who wire money eventually learn that they have received nothing in return and then lose money when their financial institution requires them to pay back the funds that were provided for the fake check.

Other letters may be trying to tempt you to participate in a foreign lottery. The BBB says as much as these letters may seem real, you should avoid them completely. Not only are they usually fake, but it is also illegal to play a foreign lottery.

A possible related scam originating from Jamaica and other Caribbean countries can add unauthorized charges to your monthly wireless bill.

The scam has been dubbed the “one ring” scam because victims’ phones often ring only once before the call is disconnected. If a victim tries to return the call, they may be charged a $19.95 international call fee plus $9 a minute for the duration of the call.

Victims have told BBB the calls appear to come from Caribbean nations including Grenada, Antigua, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica or the British Virgin Islands. Area codes for the calls include 268, 274, 473, 809 and 876. However, some calls may be domestic.

BBB recommends if you receive a call displaying an unfamiliar out-of-state telephone number on your caller ID, ignore the call and do not call back. Check your wireless bills carefully, and inform your carrier if you spot any unauthorized charges.

If you have any questions about a lottery or sweepstake call or letter, contact your BBB at info@northalabama.bbb.org or by phone at 256-533-1640 or 800-239-1642.

You can reach the PCH fraud hot line at 800-392-4190 if you receive a suspicious call from anyone purporting to be with their company.

Tiffeny Owens can be reached by email at towens@cullmantimes.com or by phone at 256-734-2131, ext. 135.

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