AVENTURA, Fla. -- One knock and you're a millionaire -- if it's the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes knocking at your door. But NBC6 discovered some scam artists are using this American tradition.
A Publisher's Clearing House promotional DVD says to "watch your mail." Letters that are showing up in mailboxes look official and claim to be from Publisher's Clearing House, but they are not.
"We're really concerned," Publisher's Clearing House representative Chris Irving said. "Consumers are losing money. We're very angry about this."
A letter came to an Aventura woman stating she was a million-dollar winner. It said Oprah Winfrey's O magazine was the sponsor. The letter included a $4,700 check for fees associated with the Publishers Clearing House prize.
But when the recipient called the phone number, Irving said, "They're told to send money back to collect a prize."
South Florida postal inspectors are on the lookout for scams like this.
"They (Publishers Clearing House) don't send a letter with a check to their winners," inspector Bladismir Rojo says. "The fact that you are just getting a letter in the mail gives you reason to be skeptical."
Felix Bossio said he lost $2,600. He said he received a letter saying he won $53,000. Also enclosed was a $2,600 check. He took it to his bank.
"So Bank of America actually cashed the check. You had money in hand?" NBC6's Willard Shepard asked.
"They said OK. They give me the money," Bossio said.
Bossio immediately left the Bank of America and went to a Sedano's grocery store, where he purchased a $2,600 money-gram and wired the funds to Toronto, Canada.
The money went to a Bobby Gray, but Felix Bossio never saw his $53,000. "They were sneaky. They never called back," Bossio said. But the bank did. The bank told Bossio the check was counterfeit and he had to replace the $2,600. "Because you deposit this check into your account and it clears, doesn't mean it's not a counterfeit," Rojo said.
NBC6 called the contact numbers on the fake Publishers Clearing House letter, and no one called back. Authorities said to look out for letters from out of the country and those with poor English.
"I think this is just a time where with the economy the way it is, obviously there's more effort on their behalf to try to scam money," Rojo said.
So far, there have been 29 complaints to the Florida attorney general about fraudulent Publishers Clearing House letters.
"If it's a legitimate prize, you never have to pay any amount to collect that prize," Irving said.
Bank of America said it cannot comment on Bossio's case.
From Publishers Clearing House:
We want you to know of reports we have received detailing fraudulent e-mails pretending to be from the real Publishers Clearing House and our famous web site pch.com. These bogus e-mails tell consumers they have won a major prize with Publishers Clearing House and seek personal financial information such as bank account, checking account or social security numbers. Some may request payment for some form of bogus fee, tax or processing cost.
We know how important it is to protect your identity from unlawful use, and shield your accounts from fraud and unauthorized access. With that in mind, we want to remind you of important consumer education information about our famous sweepstakes:
* Publishers Clearing House ("PCH") does NOT send e-mails notifying consumers that they have won a major prize. If you win a major prize in our sweepstakes our Prize Patrol will contact you in person. For smaller prizes, winners are notified by overnight delivery services (FedEx, UPS) or certified mail.
* PCH does NOT send e-mails requesting personal banking or financial information in connection with a prize. If you receive an email seeking your bank account, checking account, social security number or other financial information BEWARE.
* If you are contacted about winning a prize but are required to buy something, pay a fee, tax or processing cost STOP. You have not heard from a legitimate sweepstakes and it's certainly not from the real Publishers Clearing House!
If you believe you have received a suspicious e-mail that bears our name or logo, please forward it to our fraud reporting mailbox, firstname.lastname@example.org, and contact us immediately at our toll free number (800) 645 - 9242. We will be happy to confirm whether the communication is from the real Publishers Clearing House.