Congratulations! You just won the 2019 Publishers’ Clearing House grand prize. The call seemed real. The caller provided a call-back number, email address, and even a web site to the skeptical winner. He even assured the winner that all tax liability would be taken from the winnings so no immediate tax payment was necessary but there was one catch. The whole prize award needed to remain confidential and could not be revealed to anyone or the prize would be forfeited.

The winner was asked to select a date and time for the “official” taping of the prize delivery. After a couple days of phone conversations and email exchanges, the “red herring” appeared. The winner was told that there was a mistake in the first payment of the prize, weekly payments for life, and that the check was for $10,000 instead of $5000. All he needed to do was to return the overpayment by money order and all was fine. The overpayment was returned, the $10,000 check bounced (a forgery), and the winner became a victim.

Here is what everyone needs to know about the Publishers’ Clearing House (PCH) Prize. First, you must enter the sweepstakes to be a winner. The award is REAL but the company does not alert winners in advance. There is no requirement that you prepay any taxes, fees, handling charges, etc. Requirements of this type are clear signs of a fraud. If you are contacted by someone claiming to be PCH, report the contact to PCH at www.pch.com and check out the rules and conditions for the sweepstakes. Remember, foreign lotteries such as the Irish Sweepstakes are illegal in the United States. Good Luck! The odds of winning, according to PCH, are as high as 1 in 6,000,000,000 (yes, that is BILLION with a B).

Equifax Settlement

In late July the Federal Trade Commission announced the terms of its settlement with Equifax over the data breach that placed over 143,000, 000 Americans at risk of identity theft and financial loss. The settlement provides a number of individual benefits and choices that include credit monitoring and actual monetary compensation. For most Americans, the choice is between a cash settlement of $125 or up to 10 years of credit monitoring. According to the FTC, there are specific reasons for credit monitoring: “you’ll get an alert whenever somebody checks your credit history, opens a new loan or credit card in your name, or says a payment is late. So if somebody has, say, your SSN and tries to use it to get a loan, this free credit monitoring service would let you know right away. That’s the kind of information that might make a real difference when you apply for a job, try to rent an apartment, or apply for credit.” The choice is yours so consider the options carefully.

Another provision of the settlement pays individuals up to $20,000 for expenses incurred as a result of the Equifax data breach including $25 per hour for documented time spent in dealing with the breach. It is likely that most settlements will be for free credit monitoring and identity theft protection. Details of this include at least 4 years of free monitoring by the three major credit bureaus - Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – and $1,000,000 in identity theft insurance. Also included are up to six more years of free monitoring by Equifax. For anyone who was a minor in May 2017, there is eligibility for eighteen years.

The best place to begin your research is go to the web site ftc.gov/Equifax. The site provides the details to make an informed decision. It also has a link to database letting you know if you are at risk and a link to filing a claim for benefits. The deadline for filing is January 22, 2020 but here is a case where acting sooner will get you into the process sooner (remember, this involves about one-third of the population of the country). Questions, Comments Concerns? Contact me egreenblott@aarp.org

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network coordinator. He produces a feature CATV program, Mr. Scammer, distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland, Vt.

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