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If it sounds too good to be true... Dickinson residents confronted with telephone, walk-up scams

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Although those words could have just as easily come from your mother, they sum up the message of the North Dakota Attorney General's office concerning telephone and walk-up scams that, according to several citizens, have been occurring in the Dickinson area lately.

Some residents from Dickinson and the surrounding area say they've been bombarded lately by calls falsely announcing that they've won prizes from Publishers Clearing House, the sweepstakes-centered marketing organization.

"We've had this before, but (Monday) they started again and were calling all day," said Belfield resident Neal Kukla. "He wanted me to go to Walmart and get this Green Dot MoneyPak (prepaid) card that costs you $399. When you buy the card, you're supposed to call a number they give you. Once you call them, you're supposed to give them the information from that card to collect $7,500."

The major red flag is that PCH insists that a winner "never has to pay to claim a prize," according to a statement on its website. The scam is nothing new, according to the AG's office, but call activity seems to have picked up as of late.

Bernice Thernes of Dickinson said her residence has been inundated with calls the past few days from someone who she says is from Jamaica.

"We've gotten a lot of calls," Thernes said. "What they're doing is targeting the elderly. We need to get the word out that these people are calling and trying to scam people out of their money."

Kukla, 64, said he has received "about 10" calls from a party claiming to be with PCH this week.

"From what I've learned about this, they lay off for a couple of months and then hit it hard again," Kukla said. "If you answer your phone, you're automatically targeted. They started on my house phone first, but now they're calling my cellphone, too. The same thing has happened to my brother. I'm aggravated."

Like Thernes, Kukla said he traced the numbers to Jamaica. According to a statement from the AG's office from 2012 -- which a representative said Tuesday was still relevant -- individuals are told they have won money or a new car, but that information from the Green Dot MoneyPak prepaid cards must be given over the phone in order for prizes to be claimed.

"What makes the MoneyPak cards so attractive to scam artists is that they can get to the money on the card immediately," said Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem in the statement. "They can drain the funds from the card before the consumer even hangs up the phone."

In an apparently unrelated scam, a number of residents in Dickinson have been receiving house calls from solicitors asking for money for magazine subscriptions, also not a new trick, but unsettling to some whistleblowers and posters to The Dickinson Press' Facebook page on Tuesday.

Michele Triplett, who lives on Dickinson's west side, said she was visited by two young women asking for money this week.

"They couldn't have been older than 22," Triplett said. "They told me they were selling magazines and said they had recently moved here and were trying to meet their neighbors. I told them to leave -- they didn't have credentials or ID badges like you're supposed to have (selling door-to-door)."

The AG's office warns of door-to-door magazine salespeople, saying the subscriptions are often expensive and have confusing terms.

Consumers are encouraged to get the name, address and phone number of the company a solicitor claims to be working for, written proof of sales terms and warns that anything signed can become a legally binding contract.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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