7 On Your Side has been telling people for years about phony sweepstakes. They don't give you money -- they steal it.
A new phony sweepstakes claims Pepsi and ABC are co-sponsoring a "billion dollar" contest.
Well, 7 On Your Side is part of ABC and it is not sponsoring any such thing.
So, 7 On Your Side decided to catch the scammers in the act.
Marianne Grech is one of many who got a letter. It says she won $1 million and would be appearing on ABC for a chance to win $1 billion. It was pretty exciting, but very suspicious.
"Right away I thought, 'I have to send this to Michael Finney and find out exactly what this is,'" Grech said.
Well, it is a fraud.
With Grech's help, 7 On Your Side set out to catch the scammers at their own game.
Grech called the number listed on her letter. Sure enough, a recording came on saying she had reached the Pepsi prize claim unit.
Grech: "Hi, my name is Marianne Grech and I'm looking for Andy Perlman; I received a message, a letter in the mail with a message that I won $1 million."
Perlman came on the line.
Under state law, 7 On Your Side cannot broadcast Perlman's voice, but Grech can repeat what he said.
Grech: "My prize claim number is w098kw211."
Perlman congratulated her. He said ABC television would be arriving on her doorstep this coming Thursday with balloons and cameras -- and a Brinks armored truck filled with $1 million.
Grech: "Oh my gosh, thank you."
Grech: "So you're coming with out with a truck with all the money in it and the balloons, can I have all my family there?"
Perlman told her it was such a big amount of money she should not tell anyone except close family about it.
Grech: "You don't want me to tell anybody because there's a security problem and you want everybody to be safe?"
Next, he told her to go to her bank and deposit a $5,400 check which came with her letter. Then she should withdraw $2,689 in cash and call him back for further instructions.
Grech: "Draw it out in cash and I'm going to take it to a facility; you're going to tell me where to take it."
When Grech called back, Perlman told her to wire the cash up to his offices. It would be used to buy insurance on her prize money. He insisted the government requires it.
Grech: "I'm to go to, I don't know where there is any Western Unions around my area."
At that point, 7 On Your Side took over.
Michael Finney: "Hey Andy, this is Michael Finney from 7 On Your Side, that's the ABC station in San Francisco, ABC isn't offering any program like this."
Perlman would not fess up to being a phony.
Finney: "Do you see where this is a concern, that you are saying she won $1 million and yet you have her sending you money?
Another guy came on the line.
Finney: "Is this a scam? That's a question any reasonable person would ask given these circumstances. Is this a scam? Are you a scamster? Are you a con man? Have you been in prison?"
He hanged up on Finney.
7 On Your Side investigated further.
The letter Grech got actually came from Canada.
The enclosed check was counterfeit. That means it would eventually come back "unpaid." And if Grech had wired money to the scammers, her money would be gone forever.
Pepsi and ABC both put fraud alerts on their Web sites to warn about the scam.
ABC says, "the contents of this letter are completely false and not endorsed by ABC."
Grech says fraud or not, it was hard not to get swept up.
"They did sound convincing and I did get excited talking to him about it, I really did," Grech said.
There is no such law requiring a person to buy insurance on any prize winnings or pay anything to collect a prize. If someone is ever asked to deposit a check and wire money -- do not do it.