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Frank Gray

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You might not already be a winner

I've never won the Publishers Clearing House jackpot, but judging from the TV commercials I've seen, winners are greeted by camera crews and people holding bunches of balloons and giant cardboard checks with big numbers on them.

So, Ken McIntosh must wonder, where were the camera crews?

Last week McIntosh got a call notifying him that he had won the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes, and his prize was $2.5 million.

To collect his winnings, all he had to do was go to a Walmart, or a CVS, or a Walgreens and buy a $204 Green Dot Money Card and then call a number in Washington, D.C., and read off the 14-digit number on the back of the card.

Once he had done that, he was told, someone would be at his front door within 15 minutes driving a new Chrysler. He would be given his prize money, and McIntosh would even get to the keep the car and get complimentary auto insurance paid for by Geico.

McIntosh was a little confused. He'd never heard of Green Dot Money Card, and neither had I.

It turns out the Green Dot card is a prepaid debit card sold at various retailers. Had he bought such a card and done as instructed, he would have been out a couple of hundred dollars.

Of course McIntosh wasn't sucked in, though in an email he did lament that it would have been nice to really win $2.5 million.

It's just one of the newer scams out there.

For fun, I called the telephone number McIntosh was given, hoping to play along, make up a fake Green Dot card number and see what happened.

I guess con artists don't work around holiday weekends. All I got was a recording. Someone identifying himself as Mr. Mark Tobeck or something like that, in halting English and lousy grammar, asked that I leave my name and phone number and he would call me back.

Oddly, McIntosh got yet another phone call that same day from someone else claiming he had won $1.5 million in the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes.

Apparently, McIntosh said, someone figured he might be interested in a lesser amount since he didn't claim the $2.5 million prize.

The second caller gave him a different phone number. It was an Atlanta area number. I called that number, too, and got another recording of a man named Mr. Bobby who, once again, in halting English, said he'd call back if I left a number.

I find it difficult to understand how anyone who receives a phone call like the ones McIntosh got could fall for this scam, simply because the scammers barely speak English.

Maybe the scammers are getting dumber.

But as McIntosh wrote in an email to me, "They sure are persistent."

Frank Gray reflects on his and others' experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him at twitter.com (@FrankGrayJG).

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