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Cleveland veteran out $5,000 in sweepstakes scam

Lenard Johnson got a piece of mail in January that said he was the winner of a huge sweepstakes.
Lenard Johnson got a piece of mail in January that said he was the winner of a huge sweepstakes.(WOIO)
Published: Mar. 7, 2022 at 9:49 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - The joy of winning slowly turned to anger for a Cleveland Army veteran this year.

Lenard Johnson got a piece of mail in January that said he was the winner of a huge sweepstakes.

“I said ‘oh wow, we’ve been trying to get this stuff for years,’” Johnson said.

He says he thought his winning was the result of continuously entering a Publisher’s Clearinghouse drawing over and over.

The documents he received say he won a jeep and a weekly $7,000.

To get the prizes, however, he was told he needed to send thousands of dollars in fees.

“I sent them $5,000,” Johnson said.

And after that, they came back asking for $4,500 more.

“All together they asked $9,500,” he said.

He didn’t send the second payment. Instead—he called the company directly.

“They told me they would not have me send them no money. They said if I was a winner they would come knock on my door,” Johnson said.

That’s when he realized he’d fallen for a known scam.

“It made me feel stupid and bad,” he said.

Our Scam Squad partners at the Better Business Bureau say there’s one sure way to tell if a sweepstakes offering is a scam.

“If they are asking you to give money when you’ve won money, that’s the first red flag right there,” Ericka Dilworth said.

The BBB took nearly 2,000 reports nationwide about lottery and sweepstakes scams last year.

“If I was a little younger, I would be trying to hunt them down myself,” Johnson said.

The army veteran has records he says prove what he sent where. Still—Dillworth says it’s almost impossible for authorities to track down the con artists and the chances of getting your money back are slim.

“I would say almost zero. if you’ve paid with cash or check or any other way than a credit card, it’s incredibly hard to get your money back.”

“I’ve got a job to kind of make the bills, but I’m going to have to buy less food,” Johnson said.

With both his savings and his hope for the future significantly depleted, Johnson wants the word out.

“Don’t send nothing to them,” he said.

If you need to report a similar scam, you can contact the BBB through their scam tracker.

You can also call the Cuyahoga County Scam Squad at 216-443-SCAM.

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