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Scam artist fails to trick Leisenring woman

| Thursday, May 9, 2013, 7:12 p.m.

A local woman who was almost the victim of a lottery scam wants people to know how scammers are pretending to be Publishers Clearing House representatives to steal people's money.

Lavonne Dillinger of Leisenring was thrilled when she received a telephone call approximately 10 a.m. Tuesday telling her she won $150,000 from the Publishers Clearing House.

“I was really excited because I turned things into Publishers Clearing House,” Dillinger said. “I was on cloud nine for about half an hour.”

However, the man with a foreign accent on the other end of the phone gave Dillinger rather odd instructions.

“He said they're on Crawford Avenue,” Dillinger said. “He said (for me) to leave in the next two to three minutes.”

Dillinger was instructed to go to the nearest CVS or Walgreens pharmacy to collect her prize, which she thought was kind of strange, but she decided to do it anyway.

When she got off the phone with the man, Dillinger called her friend, Cheryl Raffle of Dunbar Township, to tell her the news and that she was going to pick her up on the way to the pharmacy.

“I get in the car, and she is on the phone with the man,” Raffle said.

The man, who called her cellphone, instructed Dillinger to enter the pharmacy and fill out what he said was a claims card and to deposit $200 on the card.

“When he said that, a light bulb went off, and it sounded like a scam,” Dillinger said.

“I said, ‘Whoa! If she won money, why does she have to pay for it?' ” said Raffle, who had her doubts about the legitimacy of the “prize” Dillinger had won. “If you won money, you certainly don't have to pay for it.”

When the man on the other line heard what Raffle said, he instructed Dillinger to take Raffle home and then go to the pharmacy alone.

At that point, Dillinger hung up her cellphone, and they both went to Raffle's house. The man again called Dillinger's cellphone seven times and her home phone 11 times, she said.

Dillinger and Raffle decided to call the number that called both of Dillinger's phones so many times.

“The voice mail said it was Bank of America,” Raffle said, adding that the voice mail said it was receiving an overload of phone calls and the caller was instructed to leave their name and phone number, which the ladies did not do.

Rather Raffle, who has an account with Bank of America, called a representative of that bank where a supervisor told her they had no connection of any kind to Publishers Clearing House.

The ladies also made phone calls to both CVS and Walgreens to tell them about what happened. Raffle said both places were familiar with the scam.

“I don't know why they don't put a sign up to warn people about the scams,” Raffle said.

The type of scam is known as the Green Dot Gift Card Scam, which makes use of legitimate prepaid gift cards like the Green Dot Moneypak cards, for example, which are found at most chain pharmacies and retail stores.

Sometimes the scammer will send their victim a forged certified check and instruct them to deposit the check and send back the fees and taxes through the prepaid gift card. The forged check will then bounce, and the money deposited on that prepaid gift card will be in the hands of the scammer.

Bentley University professor and author Steve Weisman is the founder of Scamicide.com (www.scamicide.com), a website dedicated to informing the public about the latest information on the dangers of scams.

Weisman writes that most lottery scams like the Green Dot Gift Card Scam involve the victims being told to pay taxes or administrative costs directly to the lottery sponsor.

“No legitimate lottery requires you to do so,” Weisman said, adding that whatever taxes are due on lottery winnings, that money is either deducted from the winnings before receiving the money or the recipient is responsible to pay the money to the Internal Revenue Service.

He also says that it's impossible to win a lottery that the recipient of the “prize” has not entered. Even though Dillinger had entered the Publishers Clearing House, Weisman noted why someone claiming to be from the Publishers Clearing House contacted her.

“The Publishers Clearing House lottery is perhaps the most famous lottery of all, and it is a legitimate lottery,” Weisman wrote on his site. “So many people enter this lottery that scammers know that when they contact someone and pretend to be from the Publishers Clearing House, the person they are contacting may well have entered this popular lottery.”

Because the Publishers Clearing House had its drawing on April 30, it was the right time for the scammer to contact victims.

Weisman offered tips on how to be alert to the scam, including being aware that the Publishers Clearing House does not notify major winners by email or telephone.

If anyone claims to represent the Publishers Clearing House with a prize, the company can be reached at 1-800-392-4190 or at their website (www.pch.com) for verification.

Dennis Fisher, a spokesman with the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office, said anyone who is a victim or target of a scam is encouraged to file a complaint, which can be done online at www.attorneygeneral.gov.

Mark Hofmann is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-626-3539 or mhofmann@tribweb.com.

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