Not all scams are easy to spot. Scammers are getting more and more sophisticated. Defend yourself.

A 92-year-old woman was recently scammed out of $20,000 by someone posing as a Publishers Clearing House employee.

Hazel Huggins of Phoenix received a letter stating that she won $1 million but she needed to provide some funds to free up the cash. It resulted in her draining her savings account, according to youth Pastor Joel Reiss of the Thomas Road Baptist Church, who has been helping the woman since she lost the money.

Reiss got involved when the pastor of their church informed him that something bad had happened to Huggins but didn’t know the details. Reiss said Friday that he reached out to her personally and has helped her file reports with the bank and the police.

Phoenix police confirmed that a report was filed and they are investigating the matter.

Scammers always looking to reuse old scams

A spokeswoman with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, which investigates consumer scams, says these types of ruses are all too common.

“Unfortunately scammers are always looking for ways to re-use an old scam,” Mia Garcia said. “If someone is asking you to pay money to collect a prize, it is a scam.”

Publishers Clearing House is aware of scams where someone impersonates the company — an entire subdivision of its customer service focuses on such claims. 

If any sweepstakes company asks someone to pay money to receive a prize, it is a crime, according to Erik Rudnicki, with the company’s fraud division.

Rudnicki also said that Publishers Clearing House passes on information that they obtain about scams to the Federal Trade Commission so they can pass the information to local law-enforcement officials.

Reiss: ‘I just want to help’

Reiss started a GoFundMe to help Huggins on Thursday.

“Anything helps,” he said. “I just put $20,000 to see if we could recover what she lost,” he said.

Reiss noted that even through this situation, Huggins’ demeanor hasn’t wavered one bit.

“There’s been no change in attitude, her demeanor, the way she encourages people,” he said. “It’s so rare to see goodness honored in the world. I just want to help.”

People who have been contacted by a scammer impersonating Publishers Clearing House can report it online here or can call their general help line at 800-459-4724.


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