Public Citizen ~ Larry Barnett

Larry Barnett Larry Barnett lives in Sonoma where he was elected to three terms on the City Council and served twice as Mayor. A thirty-three-year resident, he currently serves as Chair of Sonoma's Planning Commission. He has been married for 48 years, has two daughters and three grandchildren.


The sweepstakes winner scam

Posted on July 4, 2021 by Larry Barnett

My wife received a phone call and an email the other day announcing that she was a first-place winner in the Reader’s Digest Sweepstakes; $5.1 million was awaiting deposit into her bank account.

Wisely, she made no response on the phone other than to say she’d need to discuss it with her husband – me – before she would do anything. I’d been out and when I got home, she showed me the email and told me about the phone call. My first reaction was like hers – wow! – but was quickly tempered by my natural skepticism. The email was a PDF document of four pages; page one had a very large Reader’s Digest logo at the top, a few website addresses, and text announcing the award; page two was another letter purportedly from the Reader’s Digest Bank, specifying what steps needed to be taken to claim the prize; page three was a document explaining IRS regulations on taxes on such winnings; page four was an acceptance form to be filled out.

My first step was to carefully examine the letter, in which I found typos, a word missing and several spaces between words that were unnecessary. Hmmm. Next, I went to my computer and entered the various website addresses in the documents; none of them connected to a valid or existing website. An examination of the address from which the email was sent revealed it was dodgy as well, ending in In short, it was a scam.

Advice on dodging sweepstakes scams like this are pretty basic. First and foremost, if you’ve never entered a sweepstakes contest, you can’t win. Despite that, the scammers make claims, as they did in this case, that my wife’s name was “selected randomly by a computer ballot system from our senior citizen database.” This is, as we say, total crap. Even though Reader’s Digest does conduct sweepstakes, it never sends notification to winners via email or telephone, but via registered mail only.

Small inconsistencies in wording and spelling are a clue. On one page it refers to a “check” and on another, a “cheque.” Pronouns are missing, as if the drafter of the letter was not a native English speaker. The logos and mastheads on the letters are somewhat pixelated and blurry at their edges, indicating that image software manipulation has been used in their creation. Phrases like “If you receive gambling winnings not subject to withholding, you will need to pay a Government approval tax to your State Treasury Office for an approval letter” are complete nonsense, phony legalese intended to convince recipients that the sweepstakes winner announcement is legit.

It’s easy to see, however, that unsophisticated people unfamiliar with technology are vulnerable to such scams, and many thousands of dollars are lost each year by folks swept up by their excitement and enthusiasm at the prospect of winning big money. Scammers are constantly revising their methods to find ways to rip people off.

Don’t say “yes” if you’re called when asked if your name is correct; sometimes your “yes” is recorded and used as evidence of approval. Don’t give out your bank information, social security number, or any other personal information. Scammers will tell you to keep things secret, and not tell anyone about being a winner; this is to prevent scam detection. Do nothing until you have spoken with someone you trust about whether or not you are being scammed.

18 thoughts on “The sweepstakes winner scam

  1. Please note the exact layout confronted me yesterday. Thank you for your letter. Rich Wilson ps I was hoping this was not a scam. The prize was 8,500,000.00

  2. Today is October 11, 2021.
    A few minutes ago, a man, with an accent called to say I had one 1.5 mill, or whatever, and do I wish to recieve it… I said , NO, I don’t want to buy anything… he hung up on me!!
    The number is, (I’m in Quebec).. 1-876-323-9071
    Be ware of SCAMS People…..
    Anthea K.

  3. Uh oh I received a phone call today 10/28/21 also from this phone number 1-876-321-6759. The guy also have an accent saying I won $4 Mill from RD and I said “Yes” I want it. We talked lengthy and he want me to go to Safeway or Walgreen to get 2 Claim cards (more like gift cards) for $500 each. I said I can’t today but can tomorrow (which I will not) and he want me to call him back once I get the cards. He did asked where do I bank and I told him. I hope he is not able to get anything from that information. Yikes I need to be careful

    1. Just received the same call today asking if I subscribed to readers digest for 5 Years ago?… I was a 2nd place winner, $5000.00
      Told them to mail out the check gave no personal information.

  4. yes got a phone call from reader’s digest and Lee Johnson badge #3939ja that i had won $800 a month i was to go to walgreens and get a vinilla card for $100 and call them back so they can put the numbers on the big check which i will not do thanks for the heads up on the registered letter

  5. I got the same call. It’s not nice to try to scam money from old people. My call came from 202-505-4078 and the person said that his name was Wayne Cassanova.

  6. They’re at it again. I got a call from (425) 207-1290.
    I did not recognize the number so I let it go to my voice mail. The message said I won $7.5 million and a 2022 Mercedes Benz from a trivia contest I entered. Funny thing, I never enter contests ‘sponsored’ by Readers Digest. The message told me to return a call to Wayne Casanova at (202) 505-4078.

  7. Ya I got phone call today that I won 35.1million us dollars played his game with him Finally I told him I called the fraud line to report him he sent me praying hands

  8. Got the call today February 4 2022, from a supposed Mr. David Sayer 3.8 Mil and a 2022 Mercedes Benz. Went so far as to tell me he was calling from a local town not once but 3 times. I asked to have all info mailed to me, he hung up.

  9. I just got called this morning on my mom’s land line. Bob Miller,with a slight accent,had my mom’s first and last name and her old address. We just moved a couple of months ago. Yeah,2.5 million plus a 2021 BMW . Gave him my gmail and the PDF was hard to read due to inconsistent and incorrect wording. A lot of legit sounding legal mumbo jumbo but,yeah,asking for money up front. This fee or that fee. And I can’t find any legit website. All the clues are there but I was jones’d up for a minute

  10. Yep. All the clues were there. Accent,inconsistent wording in the email. He even told me on the phone that it was PCH but the email was readers digest. And yeah money up front for this fee or that. I was pretty jones’ed for a minute though.

  11. Got a similar call saying I won 2 million plus a Mercedes car. To claim I had to go to Las Vegas (their Unclaimed Winnings HQ or send a Cashier’s check for $45000).
    That clinched it. Scam.

  12. Feb 9, 2022
    I, too, received a call from Mr. David Sayer just this morning. I won 9.8 million and “2”Mercedes Benz SUVs. My caller ID said 503-773-5838, and the number I was to call was 503-987-8717. He sounded very convincing, had no accent, and spoke all the legal jargon. I only was supposed to pay $50 for a one vanilla silver card. Glad I was leary from the get-go!!!

  13. I got a call saying I was a winner I told him that he was a scam he keeping telling me why would I want ur money and said his joband family were on line and he kept calling me and I told him that I have been scam before and said he didn’t want money ,but turn around and said I had to pay for two grovement seal and they were 900$ a pieces and I was even crying on the phone telling him about the scam and his name was Robert Miller

  14. My sister got the call that said she won 4million$.He told her to go to Staples for documents-but before she goes, to call him for directions as what to do, He was from Readers Digest. He also told her she won a car and free gas for 1 year. The more I investigate,it smells like a scam! I discovered that RD does not call-they send certified registered mail.

  15. (844)279-1235
    4.8 Million Dollars
    George Compton/Tompkin

    I did not answer. They went around the blocking mechanism and dialed a second number usually employed by legitimate callers.

  16. Got a call — several calls — from Stacy Brown, Badge # 3407EG saying I had won $7.5 million and needed to go to Walgreens to pay $450 which would be subtracted from my winnings. I never enter any contests and did not go. I hung up and she called back. Was curious to see how they work the scam. Now I know.

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