Sweepstakes swindle

Postal Inspector: "You will never be asked to pay fees to get your winnings.”

Published On: Jan 23 2013 09:39:50 PM EST   Updated On: Jan 25 2013 10:40:00 PM EST

Imagine getting a letter announcing you are the million dollar winner in a major sweepstakes. Would you pay fees to get that money?   The wrong answer could lead to financial ruin.

“It looked so real… that’s when I got scammed,“ admitted Gertrude Hsia.

She was thrilled when she got a letter saying "Dear Winner, You won $1,000,000 from the Publishers Clearning House."  Inside was a check for more than $1,200.

“I had to supposedly deposit that check and then ask for $8,000 in the money orders to pay fees and a small tax,” she said.

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 one million dollar prize.  At the Post Office, her purchases of multiple money orders was a red flag.  The 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,” said Hsia.

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,” explained Swyers.

Hsia says she learned the lesson the hard way.

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

The good news, due to a bigger investigation into lottery scams, Postal Inspectors caught and federally prosecuted the recipient of Hsia's money orders.