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Rip-Off Alert: Avoid sweepstakes that want money

Reported by: Marie Mortera
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Updated: 1/24/2013 5:51 pm
LAS VEGAS (KSNV MyNews3) -- Imagine getting a letter announcing you are the million-dollar winner in a major sweepstakes. Would you pay fees to get that money?

In this Rip-Off Alert, we explain how the wrong answer can lead to financial ruin.

Gertrude Hsia was thrilled when she got this letter saying, “Dear winner, you won $1 million from the Publishers Clearing House.” Inside was a check for more than $12,000.

"It looked so real … that's when I got scammed,” Hsia said. "I had to supposedly deposit that check and then ask for $8,000 in the money orders to pay fees and a small tax."

Hsia followed the instructions and bought eight $1,000 money orders. She was told once she paid the so-called fees, she would get her $1 million prize.

At the post office, Hsia’s purchases of multiple money orders were a red flag. A clerk notified postal inspectors.

"I contacted the victim to find out exactly why she was sending $8,000 in money orders to an individual she did not know," said U.S. Postal Inspector Cheryl Swyers.

Sadly, it was too late. Hsia had already sent the money orders, and the check she deposited bounced. The retired 73-year old on a fixed income was devastated.

"It's really sad when you don't know where that money has gone," Hsia said.

Postal inspectors say this scam is all too common and the elderly are often the target.

"If you are a winner in a legitimate sweepstakes, you will never be asked to pay fees to get your winnings," Swyers said.

Hsia says she learned the lesson the hard way.

"It will never happen again. But it's $8,000 too late,” she said. “From now on, it all goes into the garbage. I'll shred it, and that's it."

Because of a bigger investigation into lottery scams, postal inspectors caught and federally prosecuted the recipient of Hsia’s money orders.
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