I'm a Clark Howard fan and I listen to his show whenever I can. Usually I secretly made fun of people who call in about scam prizes they've received. He has this cool sound effect of a dropping bomb exploding that he uses to interrupt such callers, signifying that the prize is a scam that will ultimately crash and burn.
I always think to myself "how could someone be so gullible to believe that?!" And, "I would never be so clueless; why do they even bother to call?!"
And then I got one such letter in the mail.
It was very official but not garish. It said I'd won $47,000 in an international online drawing originating in the Bahamas. I rationalized that I enter contests all the time and it could possibly be true (I have mastered the rationalizing mechanism!).
The only problem, said the letter, was that my prize money needed to be "released," and such release fees would be taken out of my prize. So they happily enclosed me a check for part of the prize (about $3500), drawn on a U.S. bank, with routing numbers across the bottom. I was to call "Mr. Oliver" and he would tell me what to do next.
So at that point I heard the bomb dropping. I heard it clear as a bell. And yet a small but loud part of me wanted it to be true. So I called the Clark Howard Consumer Action Center, just to be sure.
Here's how it works, I was told. I call Mr. Oliver and he tells me that in order to release the rest of my $47,000 I have to send them a U.S. money order for $2000, which shouldn't be a problem since we just sent you $3500. "Suuuurree!" I would say, and go to the bank to deposit the check. The consumer hotline lady said that by law the bank must release the funds from a deposited check within three days. So three days later I would go back and get the money order and send it on its way to Mr. Oliver.
Then 30 days later the check bounces all the way back to my bank. And guess who's stuck with paying the bank $3500 plus fees?
And Mr. Oliver uses my $2000 to continue sipping margaritas on the beach in Bali.
I really feel for people who are not as skeptical as I am. My theory is that if these scams exist, then they must work enough times to keep doing them.
Well, Mr. Oliver, move on to your next victim. I hope you choke on your margarita.