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June 14, 2017

Stenehjem: Elderly North Dakotans Particularly Vulnerable 

BISMARCK, ND – In the last twelve months, elderly North Dakotans have reported losses of more than $366,000 to sweepstake scams. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said the victims all believed they had won a valuable prize in a sweepstake but had to pay assorted fees and taxes before the prize could be released to them.

“Elderly individuals who live alone are favorite targets of scam artists and are particularly vulnerable. If the initial call is successful, the scam artist knows they have hooked their next victim, and they get to work, reeling the individual in with empty promises and relentless phone calls,” said Stenehjem. His office has issued numerous warnings in the past few years about sweepstakes scam calls.

One 80-year old victim was told she had won $2.5 million. The scam artist gave her a phone number to call to “verify” the prize. Over the course of the next several weeks the victim mailed cash, deposited money into a third person’s bank account, and mailed a check to pay various assorted “fees,” all in the belief that she would soon receive her prize money. Only when the victim’s son discovered what was going on and reported it to the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection division did the victim realize she had been conned, but by then she had already sent over $50,000 to the scam artists.

Another elderly victim only realized he had been lied to for months after he went to meet the prize notification team at the airport to claim his long-awaited prize but no one showed up. By that time, he had sent more than $200,000 to the phony prize notification officials to pay supposed fees and taxes. He reported that the “prize officials” would sometimes send him a money order with instructions to cash it and then wire it onto another person, telling him that they did not want him to be out of pocket. The money orders were counterfeit, and the bank later reversed the deposits.

“Sadly, these individuals continued to send money, week after week, based solely on assurances made by a total stranger on the other end of the phone,” said Stenehjem.

Parrell Grossman, director of the Consumer Protection Division, said some of the recent victims had been told they had won a prize from Publishers Clearing House, which is often used by scam artists because of the name recognition. “Victims also reported they had been instructed to keep the “win” secret and they were even coached on what to say if someone found out and tried to convince them it was a scam,” Grossman continued.

Stenehjem urged all North Dakota residents to talk to elderly parents and relatives about these scams. He said to remind family members of the following:

  • If you are asked to pay anything at all before you receive the prize, it is a scam. No legitimate sweepstakes require a winner to pay fees or taxes up front before the prize money is disbursed. 
  • If they send you money to pay the prize fees so you are not out of pocket, it is a scam.
  • Scam artists like to have victims use alternative forms of payment, such as gift cards, iTunes cards, Walmart-to-Walmart transactions or wire transfers, because they can access the funds instantly and they cannot be tracked.

For more information on how to talk to elderly parents and relatives about scams, contact the Consumer Protection division at (701) 328-3404, toll-free (800) 472-2600, or online at attorneygeneral.nd.gov

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Media Contact: Liz Brocker (701) 328-2213

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