A Sidney couple’s dreams of becoming millionaires vanished quickly Friday in an apparent scam.
Bob and Lois Baker thought representatives of Publishers Clearing House were going to show up at their door at 1 p.m. Friday bearing a bouquet of flowers, a $1 million check, and a guarantee of $5,000 per week in further prize money. None of that happened.
As the designated time passed, the Bakers and other family members waiting in their home became suspicious. The Bakers had been told the flowers would be coming from a local flower show. A call to the shop revealed that not only had no flowers been ordered, but the florist had received similar calls from other expectant prize winners.
Linda Haynes, owner of Dekker’s Flowers in Sidney, said later her shop had received four or five calls from apparent scam victims. A typical caller would ask, “When are we to pick up our flowers?” Haynes had to tell them they couldn’t, “not unless you’re going to pay for them.”
Haynes said she’d never had anything like this happen in the past. Perpetrators of the scam apparently picked a Sidney flower shop at random.
Bob called PCH, where a customer service representative told him, “What you have before you is a scam.” The PCH rep took information from Baker about the fraudulent letters the Bakers had received and said PCH would investigate the matter.
The PCH rep said the company never announces in advance where its Prize Patrol will show up. As information on its website, PCH.com, says, “PCH employees would never contact you personally or in advance to notify you of a prize award. Our prize awards are presented just the way you see in our popular TV commercials, ‘live and in person’ by our Prize Patrol, with balloons, champagne and check in hand — and with no advance notification!”
The letters the Bakers received not only claimed the Prize Patrol would show up Friday, but that NBC News anchor Brian Williams would report the event.
Another tactic of the scam artists is to ask victims to send them money in order to retrieve their prizes.
“If you are ever contacted by someone claiming to represent PCH, or claiming to be one of our employees, and asked to send or wire money (for any reason whatsoever, including taxes); or send a prepaid gift card or Green Dot Moneypak card in order to claim a sweepstakes prize — DON’T! It’s a SCAM. If you are sent a check, told it’s a partial prize award, and asked to cash it and send a portion back to claim the full prize award, DON’T. The check is fake, but the SCAM is real!” the PCH says on its website.
The Bakers said they didn’t send money, but they have been customers of PCH and other direct-marketing companies over the years, buying jewelry, household goods and books.
“I’ve bought a lot from them,” Lois said before the scam was discovered.
After it was revealed, she said, “They’ve got the last they’re going to get.”
Bill, 88, and Lois, 86, didn’t have big plans for their prize money. “We’ve got kids and we’ve got bills and we’ve got furniture to buy,” said Bill, a retired salesman. The Bakers have six children and 10 grandchildren.
They now have a personal understanding of how people can be tricked by prize scams and hope their experience will be a warning to others.