Caught in a lengthy stretch of unemployment with no health insurance, Donna Hanson wanted to believe that the $4,980 check she got in the mail was real.
But neither she nor her husband had entered any contests or sweepstakes, so the claim that they had won a Reader's Digest prize worth $145,000 seemed suspicious.
Postmarked in Seattle, the letter the 64-year-old Central Point resident received in late June said she had won a prize and the check was to pay fees and taxes associated with claiming it. The material cited numerous well-known companies — Guardian Life Insurance, Fleet Bank, Walmart, Kmart, Macy's, Home Depot — but the odd combinations of corporate names and logos only heightened Hanson's skepticism, even as she fantasized about how she could spend the money.
"I just got really suspicious," she said.
A quick check found the number listed in the letter appeared to be in Canada. The letter asked the recipients to call for information about where to send money to cover the fees and taxes and to provide additional personal information.
Now convinced that the letter and check were part of a scam, Hanson called the Jackson County Sheriff's Department.
The Sheriff's Department received at least three calls from people who got the suspicious award letter during the last weekend in June, Sgt. Tom Turk said.
"We advise them to just throw it away," Turk said. "Don't try to put the money in your account."
He described the false prize as the latest take on an old scheme — sending counterfeit checks or money orders to people, then asking them to wire funds offshore to cover expenses. The counterfeit checks bounce, but money sent by victims to cover the fictional expenses is all too real.
Banks and police see permutations of the scam fairly frequently and Turk expects that others in Jackson County got the latest mailing.
"There are probably going to be more," he said.
Hanson said she had e-mailed all her friends to warn them, then called the newspaper to spread the word even more widely.
"It's just scary. They could have wiped out what we had," she said of the scammers.
Reach reporter Anita Burke at 541-776-4485, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.