Too good to be true?

April 17, 2009 10:21:26 AM PDT
These days a little extra money would be a welcome sight for a whole lot of people.Unfortunately the bad guys know that too, so don't be surprised if you open your mail box to find a sweepstakes prize and a check. But wouldn't you know it, there is a problem.

The problem with these fake checks is that there is just enough that looks real about it that people get fooled all the time. This time around the fake check bears the name of a real company, right here in Houston.

Bunny Knott and her mother Evelyn Henry certainly could use some extra cash, but there was something about the sweepstakes check from Reader's Digest that recently arrived in the mail, that made them think twice.

"Reader's Digest would send it directly to me rather than send it in this kind of shape," Henry told us.

The $3,072 check came along with a letter from the claim notification services and it says Henry won the third grand prize in the Reader's Digest sweepstakes. While that sounded great, the details just did not add up.

"It's got a Canadian stamp, got Illinois address here and it has a Houston company name on the check itself," described Knott.

Even though the prize letter came from Canada, the check to cover taxes and fees has the name Prime Contractors off the North Belt in Houston on it. We contacted Prime Contractors and were told the checks are fake and apparently the same check has been sent to people around the nation.

I called the contact number on the notification letter and asked to speak to Frank Lucas. After reading him the claim number, Lucas congratulated me and told me to deposit the check in my bank.

"Once it is deposited you will let it sit there for two business days," he told us. "When that time is exceeded Jeff, you will return to the bank and simply withdrawal those funds in cash and call me back."

Lucas went on to say I should send the money back to him to get the $150,000 prize. So I asked why the check was coming from Houston if the prize was being sent from Readers Digest.

His answer was, "I don't know."

The folks at Prime Contractors tell us that people are falling for this because the company is getting calls daily about these checks. Again Prime Contractors is not associated with any sweepstakes and says the checks are all fakes.

What happens if you deposit the check?

The letter says the $3,000 is to cover the taxes on the big cash prize. Contest organizers want you to withdraw the money and then wire at least part of it back to the claim center. It will take a few days for the bank to realize the checks are fake, and when they do, the bank will seize your money and make you repay the cash.

Most folks don't have an extra $3,000 in their bank to cover the missing funds.

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