In just the first three months of this year, Illinois residents lost $400,000 to these types of scams.
What appears to be a winning notification from a popular sweepstakes has some Chicago-area residents targeted by scammers who send letters and make phone calls pretending to be from Publishers Clearing House.
Last month, South Chicago resident Leon Moore got a letter -- no balloons or champagne. It was actually addressed to his wife -- a letter saying she had won $1.5 million from Publishers Clearinghouse and a check for $3,900 to cover insurance and shipping. But the check was from a transportation company. Moore was suspicious and called Publishers Clearing House.
They never send snail mail, they send special couriers to the house," Moore said.
"Consumers are absolutely being hammered by these prize and sweepstakes frauds, especially older consumers," said Steve Baker, Federal Trade Commission.
The FTC is seeing similar cases in Illinois and across the country where you're asked to cash the check and then wire money to cover some fee. The problem -- once you wire money, it's gone and often gone before the bank catches the fake check.
"When a paper check works its way through the system and ends up being counterfeit, the bank will come back and pull that money back out of your checking account," Baker said.
Moore says he's been targeted by other sweepstakes scammers on the phone. He got two calls during the ABC7 interview, one promising $2 million and a car. Moore didn't deposit the alleged Publishers Clearinghouse check or wire money and he hopes others will be hesitant before chasing their millions.
"It's sad that some people will get caught up in it. I just wanted to expose what was going on," Moore said.
Publishers Clearing House and other legitimate sweepstakes companies will never ask you to pay a fee. And in the case of Publishers Clearinghouse, you really will have someone come to your door. The FTC urges you report the incidents to them and the wire service. As these scammers tend to target older residents, those who watch mail for their parents or grandparents, these are things to watch for.