"Congratulations," the bold, underlined header said. "We are pleased to inform you that you are one of our lucky winners!"
The letter goes on to say Bradford had won the grand prize of $600,000, and the accompanying check was to cover post-winning services, such as financial and legal advisers, along with what the letter referred to as legally required taxes, handling and processing fees.
First and foremost, however, the letter urged Bradford to call her claims agent, who would help guide her through the complicated process.
"I thought I was a rich woman," Bradford said.
The letter says it's from Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes Executive Vice President Deborah Holland. However, the Publishers Clearing House website makes clear that there are no strings attached to prizes, including no processing fees, tax or special handling fee - prizes are awarded free of charge. The check included in the letter to Bradford doesn't mention Publishers Clearing House anywhere and instead references a construction company in south Florida.
When Bradford took the check to her bank, the teller made it clear to her that the whole deal was a scam. The empty promise of a grand prize was to entice her into paying the "handling fee" the letter discussed.
"What I draw is mine, and they aren't getting any of it," Bradford said.
Other scammers take a more direct approach, as Joyce Turner found out. She received a call on her cellphone from a man calling himself "Alex."
"He said 'I see you haven't gotten your new Medicare card,' and he kept insisting 'No, you haven't gotten the right card.'"
Despite the fact that she had been recently issued a Medicare card, this scammer was trying to convince her that there was a new style of card she needed and started prompting her to hand over personal information. He asked for her date of birth, then asked for her Medicare card number.
"I told him absolutely not, I would not give that to anybody I wasn't standing in front of and was absolutely sure of who they were," Turner said. "I just hung up on him right there."
She knew the warning signs and avoided becoming a victim to that scam, but she said after hanging up, what bothered her most was that the scam preys on honorable, trusting people. The scammer relied on making her feel afraid that her Medicare card wouldn't work, and if some trusting person answered that phone they might have given information over out of concern, she said.
"They play off of your fears," said Sgt. Jeff Graham with the Greenwood County Sheriff's Office. "Just in walk-ins alone, I probably get five to 10 a day that are scams."
When Graham started as an investigator, he said the most prominent scams were coming from Nigeria. These scams, known as advance-fee scams, offer a large sum of money to someone, but ask for a smaller payment in advance to make that larger transfer possible.
More recently, he said, scammers have been impersonating officers. They'll call people pretending to be warrant officers, informing people that they missed jury duty and that they have to pay a fee. Often enough, though, these scammers ask for the fee to be paid over the phone, using prepaid Visa and MasterCard cards.
These scammers pretending to be officers might also say they have a relative in jail and ask people to pay bail in the form of gift cards or money transfers. Sometimes, Graham said they'll use the names of actual officers by checking local law enforcement websites, Facebook pages or even the local news.
"They do it because they feel like elderly people will trust it more if the name is one they recognize," Graham said. "If we've got a warrant on you, we're not going to call and tell you unless it's something very minor. If a warrant officer does call you, he's asking you to turn yourself in at the office, he's not asking for any money."
Information from: The Index-Journal, http://www.indexjournal.com
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