69ºF

Watch for this area code: Scam promising big prizes sweeps San Antonio

Woman shares story in hopes others won't fall for the trick

SAN ANTONIO – A yearlong scam that never seems to go away is keeping federal agents busy lately.

And a Texas woman who was bombarded with scam phone calls chose to share her story in hopes of preventing people from falling into a similar trap.

The calls delivered huge news from the Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes.

"'The lady and the prize patrol, they're on their way. You're going to take pictures. The car's coming to your driveway. What color do you want?' And he promised me $2.5 million. And it just made me so mad," said PeggySue Valentine, recalling what she was told.

Valentine, of San Antonio, immediately knew the call was a scam, noting the man's strange, cliche phrasing and his changing voice and accent. Still, she played along, curious to see what he'd ask.

"He then changed his tone and said, 'Well, dear, you have to pay the taxes on your prize, so we need you to go to Walmart and get a gift card that you can send to us.' He says, 'Let me help you out. Do you have a bank card, a routing number, a credit card? Anything we can help facilitate you winning?'" Valentine said.

The man called her from the 876 area code, which the Federal Trade Commission confirms is in Jamaica and is commonly associated with scams.

When a KPRC 2 News affiliate station called the same phone number, the same man answered, and once Publisher's Clearing House was mentioned, he quickly altered his voice.

"Hello?" the man said in a normal voice.

"I got a call from this number. Did I win a sweepstakes?"

"Yes ma'am," the voice said after a long pause, turning robotic. "My name is Mr. John Day, OK?"

That was not the name he gave Valentine.

"He said his name was John Tucker," Valentine said.

It may have been a different last name, but the man spewed the same fake promises.

"Today, ma'am, you have won 2.8 million U.S. dollars," he said.

These types of scams are so common that the Publisher's Clearing House website has an entire fraud section. It doesn't just mention phone scams. The lengthy page warns about fake employees, fake checks and fraudulent emails.

Last year, 53 people in the San Antonio area reported scams such as this one to the Better Business Bureau. At least 25 people have already made reports this year.

"People need to report it every time they get these calls," Valentine said. "The more times they can get this call registered with the Federal Trade Commission, the stronger their case is and the more chances of getting these guys shut down."

The goal is keeping these scammers away from their main targets — older, and more vulnerable, community members.

The Federal Trade Commission said sweepstakes companies, such as Publisher's Clearing House, will never ask winners to pay for prize fees. They also will never ask people to wire money or pay through gift cards.

For more information, go to the Publisher's Clearing House fraud protection page or the Federal Trade Commission's scam alert page.