On Watch

You May Already Be A Winner

Posted: Mar 1, 2013 11:33 AM ET Last Updated: Mar 1, 2013 11:33 AM ET
 When I was younger and much more gullible, I dreamed of the day Dave Sayer would show up at my front door, clutching a fistful of helium balloons and a giant cardboard cheque.
 Dave Sayer, for those of you not of a certain age, is the public face of Publishers Clearing House.  It's his job to track down people who are about to become instant millionaires.
 When snail mail was king, Publishers Clearing House was the stuff that dreams were made of. 
From its start in 1953 flogging magazine subscriptions, the company grew into a huge direct-marketing operation.  And along the way, to try to lure more people into buying subscriptions and oddball household items, the Clearing House started its sweepstakes.  People who tore off any of the dozens of stamps in a Clearing House mailer and mailed them back to the company had a shot -- a long shot -- at prizes worth millions of dollars.
 I can't remember the last time I got a Publishers Clearing House envelope in my mailbox.  But the company is still very much alive.  And its reputation lives on.
 That reputation is now posing a threat to some people here in Nova Scotia, because fraud artists are taking the Publishers Clearing House name in vain.
 Earlier this week, people in the eastern half of Shelburne County started getting calls from a man claiming to be Michael Bell from Publishers Clearing House.  He told people they'd won $2.5 million.  All they had to do is provide him with personal information like Social Insurance Number, birth date and address.  Failing that, they could simply wire Mr. Bell $250 and he would take care of processing their sweepstakes win.
 Callers told RCMP that Mr. Bell is extremely persistent and won't take no for an answer.
 Fortunately -- so far -- no one has been taken in by Mr. Bell.  Because you see, in the unlikely event you win a Publishers Clearing House prize, you get Dave Sayer on your doorstep, not Michael Bell on your phone.
 This isn't the first time the Publishers Clearing House name has been used to try to trick a Nova Scotian. 
Last November, we told you the story of a woman here in Halifax who was told she'd won a Mercedes Benz and $25 million.  The calls to the Halifax woman took on a somewhat sinister turn, as the person on the phone tried to lure the woman to meet him in the parking lot of a nearby Walmart.  Fortunately, she didn't take the bait.  But she was rattled by the experience.
 While no one we know of has been taken in by these pitches, someone must have fallen victim because fraud artists tend to stick with scams that work. 
So if you know anyone pining for a Publishers Clearing House win, you might want to gently remind them that sweepstakes winners are not called in advance and do not have to pay fees to claim their prizes.
 And Dave Sayer, if you read this, you can bring my big cardboard cheque straight to the newsroom.
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About the Author

Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 30 years in Atlantic Canada, covering everything from princes to politicians to prostitutes, and a whole lot of stuff in between. These days, he focusses on stories involving crime and public safety.

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