By Rick Sobey
BILLERICA -- When Edna Preston hears "Publishers Clearing House," she thinks of the TV commercials when people get surprised with a supersized check and balloons at their front door.
So Preston was skeptical when she received a phone call from someone who claimed to be from Publishers Clearing House, telling her she won $850,000 and a new Rolls-Royce as long as she gave them $1,000.
"They never call ahead and never tell you to spend money," said Preston, a senior citizen. "It's always a fancy surprise with cameras and balloons, so I knew something wasn't right."
And her hunch was correct; the caller was a scammer, not connected to Publishers Clearing House. The individual was hoping she would fall prey and give $1,000, and Preston would never see the $850,000 and new car.
But Preston has not fallen into the trap. She's still bombarded with phone calls from the scammer but will never send them $1,000, Preston said.
Scams like this have been popping up frequently, according to Billerica Police Lt. Roy Frost.
A resident recently received a fraudulent check, which looked legitimate, and the scammer told the resident to return the favor by sending $3,000, Frost said. The resident fell for the scam and sent $3,000 to Nigeria, he said.
"It's gone. Once it's picked up, especially out of the country, we can't get it back," Frost said.
"If it's too good to be true, then it is. You need to be aware," he added.
It's a red flag for a scam when a caller wants the resident to send money quickly and the caller promises a significant profit margin, Frost said. In addition, he said that residents should not click on hyperlinks online, which are often used for fake sites, Frost added.
If anyone is skeptical of a caller or website, Frost said that residents should contact local authorities; it would be easy for police to determine if it's legitimate or not, he said.
Preston notified police after the scammer continued to annoy her with phone calls. Like Frost, they told her to ignore the calls.
She said the scammer continues to be relentless, calling throughout the day and night. She lost it when the scammer called at 1:26 a.m.
"I have to shut my phone off at night just to get a few hours of sleep," Preston said. "It's really getting to me. It's beyond insensitive."
While Preston doesn't have to worry about money, she's concerned about individuals who would jump at the chance to claim $850,000.
"To some people, it would mean everything to them," she said. "Nobody should listen to these calls. People need to stay away from it."
On its fraud protection website, Publishers Clearing House writes, "The winning is always free and you never have to pay to claim a prize award. Recognizing the difference between legitimate sweepstakes and other types of offers that may not be legitimate will help you protect yourself and your family.
"If someone contacts you claiming to be from Publishers Clearing House, and tells you that you've won a prize award -- then asks you to send a payment or money card in order to claim the prize -- STOP! You have not heard from the real Publishers Clearing House."
Publishers Clearing House did not respond to comment.
In addition to telling local authorities, Frost said that residents should report scams to www.ic3.gov, the Internet Crime Complaint Center; it's a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White Collar Crime Center.