Randy Meier

Randy Meier

Publishers Clearing House organized as a mail order magazine subscription service in 1953, and started awarding its sweepstakes prizes in 1967. I’m willing to wager it wasn’t too long after 1967 that the first Publishers Clearing House scam popped up.

This particular scam, with its offer of millions in prizes in exchange for the payment by the winner of a relatively tiny fee, is an enduring feature of the fraud world. It’s still around because it still works, and it snared two seniors in DeWitt and Wheatland in the last couple of months.

The first victim, a 77-year-old rural DeWitt woman I’ll name Martha, lost at least $12,000. According to her “claims agent,” to claim her prize, she needed to pay some fees for delivery. The crooks called her repeatedly over almost a month, persuading her to send cash concealed inside books through the mail, send personal checks to strangers, and finally to send high-dollar cashier’s checks in the mail to strangers. The scammers’ greed in seeking the high-dollar payments led to the scheme’s unraveling as it tipped off Martha’s bank, which alerted her family.

The second “prize-winner” victim, a 66-year-old Wheatland man, Peter, received the call notifying him he won $3.5 million and a new Mercedes. Peter’s “claims agent” wanted to prove his sincerity by paying off Peter’s credit card debt. Peter gave away his full name, social security number, birthdate, and credit card number to the crook. The crook accessed the card account online, and indeed paid off $8,000 in credit card debt. Or made it appear that way. It made a believer out of Peter, so he happily agreed to send $1,700 in cash to Canada. Peter went to his bank for the cash, but alert bank officers asking the right questions figured out the scam and saved Peter’s cash, but it was too late to save his personal information.

Anytime you get a call from Publishers Clearing House, it is a scam. Always. Hang up. If you get mail from Publishers Clearing House awarding a prize; it’s a scam also. Often this mailing encloses a check. The check is counterfeit. Don’t cash it.

STUDENT LOAN ROBOCALLS – FRAUD BEHIND THEM UNMASKED

Many readers tell me about getting robocalls promoting student loan debt forgiveness or repayment. Such calls sound amusing to folks born before the Korean War. But according to a media release from the Federal Trade Commission on Nov 12, such calls are likely part of a fraudulent scheme to cheat people straining under student loan debt. The FTC reported they obtained a temporary restraining order against several companies that ran this shady operation, which “bilked consumers out of millions of dollars by pretending to be affiliated with the U.S. Department of Education and falsely promising student loan debt relief.”

These companies recruited consumers through radio ads, TV ads, online ads, and telemarketing. They described themselves as working directly with the U.S. Department of Education or various lenders. They promised to wipe out or reduce the debt in exchange for an upfront fee, which is illegal, as high as $1,800. Furthermore, this operation demanded the loan payments get sent to them, not the lenders. Instead the schemers kept the money and cut off contact between the borrowers and lenders, causing many of the debts to go delinquent.

We can understand how the offer of debt relief or forgiveness appeals to many. Student loan debt is the second highest debt category in the U.S., behind only mortgages, and ahead of auto loans and credit card debt. I read several estimates of the debt amount, ranging from $850 billion to $1.5 trillion. It’s a lot of money.

The FTC named the companies involved:

  • Arete Financial Freedom
  • 1file.org
  • Interest Rate Solutions
  • Education Loan Network
  • Premier Solutions Servicing

The FTC wants any consumers involved with these companies to report that to the FTC at www.FTC.gov/Complaint. If you signed up with one of those companies, your loans might be delinquent now. If you have a federal loan, go to the U.S. Department of Education page: StudentAid.gov/repay. If you have private loans, talk with your lender.

No private company can do any more than a borrower can on their own to get student debt forgiven or reduced. Never pay anyone upfront for debt relief or a promise of debt forgiveness.

CONTACT SENIORS Versus CRIME

Let me know about scams, fraud, or other crookedness you run across. Most of what I learn, I learn from you. Contact me at Seniors vs. Crime, Clinton County Sheriff’s Office, at 242-9211, Ext. 4433, or email me at randymeier@gapa911.us

Randy Meier is the director of Seniors vs. Crime, which operates in conjunction with the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office.