The North Dakota Attorney General’s office is warning North Dakotans to be aware of prize scams circulating in the state.

Recently, a retired Minot area couple lost over $89,000 to a phony prize scam, a ploy that not only wiped out their savings but also cost them a bank loan they took out using their house as collateral.

According to the Attorney General’s office, the couple said the scam began several months ago when they received a phone call supposedly from the “California Gaming Commission,” telling them they had won a $1.7 million prize.

The couple was instructed not to tell anyone about their winnings.

Over the next several weeks, scammers posing as prize officials, attorneys and even a federal judge instructed the couple to send money orders and cash to cover supposed taxes and fees before the prize money could be released.

The amounts varied from $500 to $10,000.

Initially, the couple was instructed to send money orders. Later, they were told to send cash via UPS by inserting bills between the pages of magazines or books and labeling the packages “legal documents.”

Over the course of three months, the couple had sent more than $89,000 in “taxes” and “fees” to the fraudsters.

As is the case in most scams like this, there’s little chance for the couple to recover the money scammed from them.

“Sadly, this couple put their future financial security at risk and have lost it all,” said North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. “If you are asked to send any money to collect a prize, it’s a scam, every single time. There are no exceptions to this rule, no matter how persuasive or authoritative the caller may seem, it’s always a lie.”

Parrell Grossman, director of the Consumer Protection Division, adds the prize notification scam is one of several so-called “advance fee” scams that have been circulating in the state for the past few years. These scams range from fake prize notifications to phony warnings from the IRS or social security administration.

Grossman offers the following reminders:

  1. Never, ever, send any money in response to a phone call. If you think it might be a real call, check with the Consumer Protection division at 701-328-3404 before sending any money.
  2. If you are asked to purchase gift cards, hide money in packages, or send multiple payments, you know it is a scam.