Surviving shams and scams

Shysters single out seniors for sweepstake swindles

Editor’s note: This monthly series highlights scams that target Mahoning County, particularly the senior community. Dr. Dave Long of Poland, a Youngstown State University graduate, is a retired Elder Scam Prevention Outreach specialist with Lifespan in Rochester, N.Y., and a former public affairs officer with U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Buffalo.

Scammers are constantly trying to come up with new lies to convince seniors they have won a sweepstakes or lottery. You may receive a letter in the mail, get a message on line or a phone call saying that you have won a sweepstakes from a popular magazine, a foreign lottery or Publishers Clearing House.

The scammer will sound convincing and ask for bank account numbers, credit card numbers or other personal information to pay fees and taxes on winnings before sending your winnings.

Sometimes scammers may say they are calling from the IRS or Federal Trade Commission asking you to pay taxes on your winnings to keep everything legal.

DON’T ever believe a word of it.

Common signs of sweepstakes scams include:

• Saying you have won a prize in a sweepstakes you never entered;

• Asking you to pay fees by gift cards, wire transfer, Western Union or cash;

• Your caller ID indicates you are dealing with a federal government agency like the

IRS or Federal Trade


• Telling you that your prize will expire if you don’t quickly send fees;

• Notifying you that you have won a foreign lottery;

• Saying you have won a big prize, but somehow they don’t know your name;

• Sending you a letter, email or text with spelling and grammar errors.

Government agencies never call asking for fees or taxes on a prize.

The Publisher’s Clearing House does not call winners in advance and never asks for money to collect a prize.

If anyone says you have won a foreign lottery, remember it is illegal for U.S. citizens to play foreign lotteries.

Sweepstakes scammers can sound convincing. Hearing that you have won a pile of money can be exciting, particularly to a senior on a fixed income.

Scammers are criminals who will say anything to steal your money.

Once you have sent your money to a scammer, it most likely is gone forever.

Never send money or personal information to anyone who says you have won a big prize.

Never cash a check supposed to be partial payment for a prize. The check will bounce, and you will have to pay the bank back for the amount of the check.


If you have a question on a possible scam, talk to a family member or call your local police department. Seniors also can call their county Senior Services Unit for more information about scams.

In Mahoning County, call Bob Schaeffer at 330-480-5078.

In Trumbull County, call Don Hyde at 330-675-7096.

Dave Long will begin a series of monthly talks on why scammers target seniors and how to protect personal information at 1 p.m. July 22 at the Poland Township Government Center, 3339 Dobbins Road, Poland. The hourlong sessions will take place 1 p.m. the fourth Thursday of every month and include question-and-answer sessions.


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