Scammers impersonate Publishers Clearing House, BBB

ID-100297158Scammers can be persistent, so it’s a good idea to be on your guard. A Waco-area woman recently received two calls from scammers who lied about who they were in an attempt to get her money. Luckily, she figured it out, didn’t get scammed and reported it to Your BBB.

First, they tried it the “nice” way. They told her she had won a big prize from Publishers Clearinghouse, but in order to collect her winnings, she needed to pay a fee. She told them she couldn’t afford the fee and hung up.

Then she got a call from a scary guy who called himself “Officer Branch from the BBB” who told her BBB was over Publisher’s Clearinghouse and if she didn’t pay the fee, the person called about the prize would be jailed. She hung up, but they kept calling, so she changed her number.

Next, the “BBB Officer,” who had apparently done some research on the would-be victim, called her apartment office saying her son was in jail and she needed to pay $20,000 to get him out–she doesn’t have a son by the name the scammer gave.

The number was from Jamaica, according to the Caller ID. I called and asked the man who answered if he was Officer Branch with the BBB and he said yes and asked me what I wanted.

He sounded pretty authoritative until I told him I was with Better Business Bureau and asked for his city, contact info and supervisor’s name, etc. Then he hung up pretty quick. Hopefully that convinced him to leave that poor woman alone, but I don’t have much faith that he’ll quit the scamming business altogether.

Two major points from that story:

  • Better Business Bureau is not a government agency with any type of police powers. We can’t arrest or jail anyone. We don’t have anything to do with sweepstakes We’re a reporting organization. We also don’t approve loans or have anything to do with collecting debts. I’ve run across claims like that before from scammers. Using a trusted organization as cover is a common tool for scammers. If anyone calls with prize offers or threats and claims to be with BBB, hang up and report it to the BBB Scam Tracker (which is a good resource to see what scams are being reported throughout the U.S.)
  • Publisher’s Clearinghouse doesn’t call or ask for payment before awarding prizes. Publishers Clearing House has a blog post about how to recognize fake PCH award scams: Five Ways to Know If It’s a Publishers Clearing House Scam.

BBB offers advice on what you can do to avoid scams like the attempt described above:

  • Don’t be pressured. Often scammers will try to pressure you into making fast decisions.
  • Don’t expect to win a contest you never entered. You can only win a sweepstakes you enter. If you have entered a sweepstakes, keep track of who you’re entering with.
  • A true sweepstakes will not make its winner pay fees. If you are asked to mail or wire money to pay fees or taxes, you’re looking at a scam. Legitimate prizes do not come with processing fees and taxes are paid directly to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) after winnings are collected.
  • Do your research. Take time to research the organization. Check them out on, search online, etc.
  • Don’t provide personal information. Never provide your personal information (address, date-of-birth, banking information, ID numbers) to people you do not know.
  • Verify the source. If you are unsure about a call or email that claims to be from your bank, utility company, etc., call the business from the number on your bill or the back of your credit card.
  • Do not wire money. Never send money by wire transfer or prepaid debit card to someone you don’t know or haven’t met in person. Never send money for an emergency situation unless you’ve been able to verify the emergency.