The Investigators

May 5, 2014 12:08 PM by Matthew Schwartz

N4T Investigators: Sweepstakes Hustle

Tucson - Steve Schneider is holding phony sweepstakes prize letters when he says, "Every day I get between six and 12 of these things, and every day it breaks my heart."

Schneider's heartbreak happens at the mailbox outside his foothills home.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators were with Schneider last Thursday, waiting for the mail truck. Thirteen letters came from throughout the country and the world, all addressed to Steve's dad, Jerry. They claimed he'd won a cash prize, some as much as $3.5 million. Jerry just had to send a "processing" or "transfer" fee, of between $20 and $40.

Steve discussed the letters with his father. "I said, ‘Dad, these are bogus, these are not real."

But Jerry Schneider, a World War II veteran who was part of the Normandy assault, was 96 years-old and had dementia. He was in an independent living facility, and thought the prizes were real. He sent countless checks totaling hundreds of dollars to the various post office boxes on the return envelopes before Steve found out.

Steve said, "Interesting and ironically enough, he was a skeptic, until he got his dementia and then he started believing in these things."

Not unlike Bruce Dern's character in last year's film, "Nebraska," who believed he'd won a million dollars.

Steve Schneider and his wife saw the movie and he says, "I'm here to tell you, that story isn't fiction."

Since April 1, just over a month ago, Jerry Schneider received more than 100 sweepstakes letters. One problem: Jerry Schneider died on April 1st.

But the letters keep coming to Steve's house, where his dad's mail has been forwarded. The senders obviously don't know Jerry passed away. Once Jerry sent had them a check, they realized he was gullible. Then the word spread, because they share mailing lists.

Steve Schneider, 64, is a financial planner. He told the News 4 Tucson Investigators, "If I wasn't so involved, and if people didn't care about him, there's no limit on how much he could have been cleaned out."

After staff at his father's home alerted Steve, he intercepted about 50 checks his dad had signed for those illegal processing fees before they could be mailed.

Nick LaFleur of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona says the agency receives calls every day about phony sweepstakes.

"It's very widespread, especially here in Tucson because we have so many elderly people living here."

LaFleur advises, "If you have elderly parents or you're care-giving for someone who's elderly, just really stay involved in what they're doing and how they're spending their money."

Steve Schneider says, "It makes me sad to realize that my Dad spent the last months of his life pursuing this, this bogus dream."

In a legitimate sweepstakes, you never have to pay a fee of any kind. If you receive any sweepstakes letters requesting processing or transfer fees, throw them out. You can file complaints with U.S. Postal Inspectors, the Arizona Attorney General, and the Better Business Bureau.

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line, (520) 955-4444.

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