Central Florida man says he lost $250K to sweepstakes scam

Publishers Clearing House will never notify winners by mail or ask for cash to claim a prize

VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – A Volusia County man who mistakenly believed he had won a multimillion-dollar sweepstake from Publishers Clearing House said he spent more than $250,000 trying to collect the prize.

Publishers Clearing House, or PCH, warns consumers that scammers fraudulently pose as company representatives and urge people to send money in exchange for prizes, something PCH said it never does.

The fraud victim spoke with News 6 under the condition that he only be identified by his middle name, George, saying he feels humiliated for being tricked.

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“I’m a little embarrassed about everything,” said George. “I went to News 6 to get this out so other people won’t fall victim to this scam.”

A little more than two years ago George received a flyer in the mail from PCH inviting him to enter sweepstakes.

A PCH spokesperson confirmed the mailer George received was authentic and had been sent by the company.

About a week after George submitted his personal information to PCH on the company’s website, he said people claiming to be a PCH representative called his cell phone to announce he won a sweepstake.

George now suspects the timing of the phone call may have been coincidental.

“They were very convincing,” said George. “$10 million in a check and $2.5 million in cash that would be delivered to me in a briefcase.”

George was also told he won a new Mercedes Benz and a gold ring.

Before he could collect the prizes, George said the caller instructed him to wire money to an offshore account to cover the cost of stamps on legal documents.

“I thought that was legitimate, so I went along with it,” said George.

The callers later requested more money for taxes, storage fees and other expenses, George said.

“I make this payment or lose the prize,” he said. “And not wanting to lose the prize, I kept giving and giving.”

George, a military veteran, said he ultimately turned over most of his social security and government benefits to the scammers under the belief that he would eventually be a multimillionaire.

“I was thinking about how I could help my brothers and sisters and the money I could give to the Veteran’s Administration, handicapped people, different organizations,” he said. “I figured this will all come out in the wash when I get the [prize] delivery, which never happened.”

On multiple occasions, the callers informed George they were en route to Volusia County with his prize money.

“They told me, ‘We picked up the car in Orlando and we’re on our way to your house. The security team is bringing the money’,” George said.

George said he was told that the security team would then accompany him to his bank so he could deposit his winnings.

“It was 4:30 p.m. and my bank closes at five,” said George. “I told them they would never make it. So they said they would deliver it tomorrow. Just excuse after excuse.”

When George demanded that the callers provide identification, he received a text message photo showing what appeared to be an ID badge containing an image of Danielle Lam, one of PCH’s official “prize patrol” spokespeople.

At the time, George was unaware that dozens of photographs of Lam could be found on the internet by scammers who could potentially use the images to create fake IDs.

In a video on the official PCH website, Lam warns consumers about potential scams.

“Winning is a complete surprise. We never let the winner known advance that we’re on the way because that would take all the fun out of it,” said Lam. “Unfortunately, there are plenty of scammers out there who tried to trick our fans into believing they won.”

PCH will never notify winners with a phone call and winners will never have to pay anything to claim a prize.

“Winning is always free at PCH,” said Lam.

George wishes he had known that before he began sending money to the scammers.

“Make sure that you’re not getting sucked in,” said George. “It is something that will ruin you.”

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades. Mike joined News 6 just as Florida officials began counting hanging chads in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election. Since then, he has covered some of the biggest news events in Central Florida.