Carter County Sheriff Milton Anthony is urging area residents to beware of telephone scammers who try to convince their victims they have won large amounts of cash in prize drawings, sweepstakes or lotteries, and to be especially on guard when receiving calls from the 876 area code.

“In recent days we have received an influx of calls from people saying they received telephone calls that said they had won money. The caller tells them in order to collect their prize, they have to pay the fees associated with the prize. The victim is told to purchase green dot cards (prepaid debit cards) in a specified amount, which is then to be transferred to the caller. The caller assures the victim that their prize will be awarded in person within a specified time, and will oftentimes call back several times in order to prolong the scam and prevent the victim from becoming suspicious and trying to cancel the transfer,” Anthony explained.

Unfortunately there is no prize money, sweepstakes or lottery winnings. The only winner is the con artist, who has successfully bilked the victim out of a substantial amount of cash.

“We have one victim right now who sent $18,000,” Anthony said.

What does the 876 area code have to do with the swindle?

“The area code 876 is in Jamaica. Many of the scammers are operating from Jamaica, but the area code makes it seem like the person is calling from the U.S. So if you see the 876 area code, you should not answer or automatically reject what you are being told. Most importantly, remember these scammers are very good at what they do — they’re very convincing. They make it seem like it’s real, and even though victims are often skeptical at first, if they stay on the phone, the scammer will likely convince them they are legitimate,” the sheriff said.

Anthony offered the following advice when receiving calls about winning large amounts of cash:

- Don’t trust any unsolicited call from the 876 area code or anywhere with offers that sound too good to be true

- Don’t return calls to unfamiliar area codes until you have identified the area code

- Be cautious of any area code that connects to international telephone numbers

- Do not, under any circumstance, pay any money. Real prize offerings and legitimate sweepstakes are free; there is no charge to collect winnings

- Never send money to anyone you don’t know

- Never give anyone personal information, like bank account numbers, Social Security numbers or debit/credit card numbers over the phone

- Always report potential scam calls to law enforcement

Anyone who has been victimized or believes they have received a call from a scammer should contact the Carter County Sheriff’s Department at (580) 223-6014.