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Special Report: Inside the Publisher's Clearing House Scam

We've all seen or heard about the Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes, offering $5,000 a week for life.
LITTLE ROCK, AR -- We've all seen or heard about the Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes, offering $5,000 a week for life.

Sounds great, right?

And how cool would it be to have the prize patrol show up unannounced at your door step with cameras rolling, colorful balloons dancing in the wind along with hand picked flowers and that big cardboard check worth millions?

The reaction from those who win speaks for themselves, but there's a different reaction when people realize they've been scammed in the name of the sweepstakes.

With the help of local officials, we put one of the year's most common scams to the test in hopes of showing you the mistakes some Arkansans make so you can avoid them.

Mike Rohrer is not a scam artist, he's the Chief Operating Officer for the Better Business Bureau (BBB) in Little Rock, and knows the extent to which a real criminal will go to snag a victim.

Rohrer agreed to play the role of a scam artist in order to show you the mistakes so many of us make.

After 15 minutes and nearly 20 random phone calls, we finally get somone on the line.

"Hello is this Vicki?" Rohrer asks the potential victim.

From here, Rohrer puts the Publisher's Clearing House scam into action.

Rohrer asks Vicki if she remembers entering the PCH sweepstakes, to which she says she does. That's just the beginning of a carefully crafted script, which serves one purpose of taking the bait.

"I'm sorry, you didn't win the grand prize, but we do have that second place drawing and that is you," he tells her. "$2.3 million and also a new car."

"Wonderful," she replies.

"Our prize patrol is in the Little Rock area today," Rohrer says. "When will you be home?"

"I'm at home right now," she says.

And once the potential victim takes the bait, the scam artist moves in for the kill, hoping the victim gets lost in the excitement and ponies up.

"I just need a couple of pices of information," he tells Vicki.

The first target, not the $2.3 million cash award, but the new car and the sales tax, the scam artist claims you have to pay for.

"It's only $357, and it wouldn't be going to you, it would be going to the State of Arkansas," Rohrer tells the potential victim.  "We collect that for them and take that in --"

"No you don't," Vicki interjects. "No, you don't collect it for them."

At this point, it's clear that Vicki is on to the scam. It turns out she works for the State Revenue Office and the same department in which Aarkansans register their cars.

"The minute he told me he was with Publisher's Clearing House and I won the money, I didn't believe it," Vicki says.

When asked why she continued the conversation, she replied, "Cause I wanted to hear what he had to say, and when he was telling me he was coming over. My statement to him was, 'Wonderful, 'cause I'm gonna have police sitting here when you get here.'"

So we try to find another potential victim, and 10 calls later, we find Vivian, an older woman taking care of her mother.

After hearing the news of her winnings, Vivian is in a state of disbelief, like real winners, caught up in the excitement that her mom is a winner, and tells our fake scam artist she can come up with the sales tax money within an hour.

But this time, we take it a step further.

"If you could, I just need one more piece of information," Rohrer says.

He proceeds to ask if Vivian has the last four digits of her mother's social security number, to which she replies, "Yes, I do."

A scam artist would then convince his victim to go to a local store to purchase a pre-paid Visa or GreenDot card, and to load it with the $357 for the sales tax.

"$357 is nothing when they're thinking they're gonna win $2.3 million," Rohrer says.

The scam artist then calls the victim back to say the prize patrol is running late, but needs the code on the back of the card in order to fill out the paperwork.

Once the victim gives it, the scam artist is off and running.

We don't ask Vivian to get a pre-paid card. Instead, I tell her who I am and what we are doing to help educate the public.

Vivian said she believed it was actually Publisher's Clearing House, "Because he sounded convincing."

There's one other thing you should be on the lookout for when and if someone calls you and says you've just won the Publisher's Clearing House sweepstakes: the area code.

If you see the area code 876, hang up. That's the area code for Jamaica, and according to the BBB, that's where the majority of these scams originate.

For more information on the scam from the BBB, click here.

For tips and warning signs on potential PCH scams, click here.

Authorities say the scam occurs between 20 and 30 times every week, and when the real Publisher's Clearing House sweepstakes hits the air, the numbers spike even higher.

But all they can do is educate, they don't investigate, so if you get caught up in the excitement and pony up, odds are you are not going to get your money back.
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