Deputy warns: Don't be fooled by sweepstakes scam

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By Vince Luecke

PERRY COUNTY - What appeared to be a windfall for one Perry County man turned out instead to be a fraud that could have cost him thousands of dollars.

The rural Tell City homeowner received a letter dated Jan. 16 from Dominion Financial Award Inc., declaring him a $125,000 winner in a sweepstakes allegedly conducted through a computerized balloting system. The letter included a check for $4,850 drawn on a bank in Vermont, supposedly to be used for paying taxes on the winnings.

Instructions in the letter asked the man to call a claims analyst to obtain more information and to have the check activated. One of the letter's instructions was to purchase a Money Gram from a local Wal-Mart and to send the money order to a Canadian address given to him by the analyst.

County Deputy Lee Chestnut said the homeowner found the name of the bank through an Internet search engine and called Vermont. The check was not valid, he learned, and approximately 15 other similar bogus checks had been reported to the bank. The check appeared legitimate and had a watermark on the back but did not include the name of an account holder.

Had the Tell City man not learned the sweepstakes and letter were scams and cashed the check, he could have been responsible for repaying the amount to his local bank. The money order, had it been sent to the Canadian address, no doubt would have been quickly cashed by the scammers and since money orders are often not traceable, the man would have lost that money, too.

"The whole scam would have cost him several thousand dollars," said Chestnut, who has contacted local banks about the checks. Similar scam letters have circulated before and some people have fallen victim to them.

Indiana State Police Detective Chris Cecil has seen a number of scams involving checks or bogus money orders. "A lot of them target the elderly and they are among the most susceptible to falling for scams," he said.

Anyone receiving a check should contact local authorities or state police at (800) 742-7475.