When longtime Sunrise Beach resident Max Bartley entered his wife into the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes recently, he didn't really expect to win. He just entered for Maxine.
A man introducing himself as John Brady called Maxine Tuesday, April 30. With trouble talking after having a stroke, Maxine handed the phone off to Max. It is supposed to be giveaway day for Publisher's Clearinghouse.
Brady tells the Bartleys that they have won $700,000 and a new Chevy car in the sweepstakes, and that officials with the giveaway and a TV station are just minutes away.
Because it is the designated giveaway day, Max thought well maybe it's possible — even though the man was asking for a relatively small amount of money, $200, to register for the big prize.
Max had daughter Terry Schertz drive him to Walmart to pick up the Green Dot MoneyPak — a reloadable debit card — as required by the man calling himself Brady. In addition to the money card, the supposed sweepstakes official ask for two forms of identification along with a driver's license.
Schertz is suspicious — but again, it is giveaway day. When they get back home, she calls the number back, 1-876-291-0978, and speaks to "Brady" who gives them another phone number, 1-876-582-5623, to call to verify that they had won.
Schertz calls Brady and then a supposed manager named Peter White. Schertz says he is obviously the same person who was previously calling himself Brady.
Schertz calls the Camden County Sheriff's Office and Publisher's Clearinghouse. They verify that it is a scam, and she officially reports the incident.
Though she eventually confronts the man as a scammer, he continues to call back with the prizes getting more fabulous over time. The supposed prize gets as high as $2.5 million and a Mercedes Benz filled with gas and insurance paid for a year.
At one point, he told Schertz that she wasn't following orders and didn't understand what was going on, she says.The phone calls were very high pressure, she says, and persistent.
By late morning May 2, there had been 11 phone calls in total. In addition to Brady and White, Schertz has spoken to what she believes is the same man under the guise of John Swady and Mr. Johnson.
At the last call Thursday morning, "Brady" said he would call back after Gary Bartley — the son of Max and Maxine and Schertz's brother — answered the phone. They expect he will continue calling for the next few days, but hope the calls will stop soon.
The whole thing, says Max, has been "ricidulous."
The family contacted the newspaper to warn others of the scam they so narrowly avoided.
Page 2 of 2 - According to scambusters.org, "Green Dot scams" are one of the newest weapons for scammers. They also warn of callers offering a grant award or government loans.
The Green Dot MoneyPaks are used to top up the existing Green Dot debit cards of the scammers after the victim gives them the card information — a money transfer that bypasses traditional cash-wiring companies and that offers even greater anonymity for the scammers.
In addition to not requiring a deposit to receive the prize, Publisher's Clearinghouse also warns that all promotional offers from the sweepstakes come with a SweepsFacts insert which covers its extensive official rules.
The area code 876 that was used by the scammer in this instance is the local telephone area code of Jamaica. The area code has become commonly associated with various types of telephone scams. It is not a toll-free number and calls are normally billed at international long distance rates.