KINGSBURY -- They were skeptical, but hopeful.
The elderly Kingsbury couple received a check for $1.6 million in the mail last week along with a letter informing them they had won the annual Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes.
It had a phone number to call. They weren’t sure if it was legitimate, so they brought it to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office to check.
It turns out it wasn’t.
The $1.6 million check was fake, using a well-known national sweepstakes in an effort to sucker people into giving out personal information or bank account information.
“They were hopeful there would be some truth to it,” sheriff’s Capt. Bryn Reynolds said. “I felt bad for them.”
The massive check was the latest variation police have seen on a scam that continues to plague the region and nation — scam artists trying to convince people to give out personal information, such as bank account numbers or Social Security numbers.
Local police get calls every week from local people who are targeted and sometimes victimized by similar schemes.
People should keep two main points in mind when receiving checks they weren’t expecting or inquiries about potential prizes: If you didn’t enter, you didn’t win, and no legitimate contest requires winners to pay money up front.
State Police Senior Investigator Thomas Aiken said the criminals involved in these scams get more savvy all the time, using fake email addresses and phone numbers on caller ID systems to try to convince recipients they are legitimate.
“We get these calls all the time, and we hear from people who have lost money,” he said.
Reynolds said he called the phone number on the “Publishers Clearing House” letter that accompanied the check the Kingsbury couple received, and got a voice mail.
Police believe the thieves typically try to convince those who receive the checks to give them their bank account numbers, pretending they are needed to wire money to them.
Instead, they proceed to loot the bank account for which they now have an open door.
Reynolds said he spoke with a Publishers Clearing House representative, who indicated that they do not mail awards letters and instead go to the homes of those who win.
Publishers Clearing House has a section on its website with information about the various scams by those pretending to be from the company.