Nothing hits home more than when the target becomes someone close to you.
On Tuesday, Gloria Juliano, a Seminole resident and 82-year-old mother of a colleague, got a call from a guy named Alex Myers, saying she had won the Publisher's Clearing House.
It was a scam.
Juliano figured out it was bogus, but that didn't stop the caller from trying to direct her to send a payment of about $4,000 to "customs" in Miami to receive her prize because the award was coming from an account in Costa Rica.
I called the number of the supposed Publisher's Clearing House call center: 1-866-978-5940.
Publisher's Clearing House.
A person claiming to be a receptionist answered. Alex Myers was busy.
Even though I informed the "receptionist" that I was a reporter with the St. Petersburg Times, the person continued to play the role. The person insisted that the number was Publisher's Clearing House.
When I spoke to the real Publisher's Clearing House, Margaret Crossan, senior consumer affairs manager, said the scams have become prolific.
"I can tell you definitely it's a scam artist," Crossan said. "It is not something the real Publisher's Clearing House would do. We do not make outgoing calls anymore."
Crossan said Publisher's Clearing House delivers its prizes, "just like on TV … with the flowers, the balloons and the big check." She said Publisher's Clearing House would move to have the fake telephone number shut down.
Deborah Berry, of the Pinellas Department of Justice and Consumer Services, said if you didn't register for a program, it's highly unlikely that you will have won something from it.
"No one is just going to give you money," Berry said.
Publisher's Clearing House and several other big name operations such as Reader's Digest and Oprah have been hit with telephone and mail prize scams.
A common one is the use of a bogus check sent through the mail. It looks like a real check, but the catch is the consumer is supposed to send a fee after cashing it.
It turns out the check is fake and the consumer has to pay the fees associated with it.
So here's the Edge:
• Question someone offering you free money out of the blue.
• Don't pay fees. It should go without saying, but honestly, some of these folks can be tricky. If you have to pay up front for something supposedly free, then it's not free.
• Protect your personal information. If you don't know who you're dealing with, don't give out information such as your checking account number.
• If you are hit with a question about a Publisher's Clearing House prize offer, call toll-free 1-800-645-9242 or visit www.pch.com.
Ivan Penn can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2332.