Police Warn Public of Sweepstakes Scam

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Police issued a public warning Tuesday after arresting a Las Vegas man suspected of bilking thousands of dollars from victims who were told to send $1,000 to collect on sweepstakes winnings.

“No legitimate sweepstakes requires money to be paid by the winner prior to collecting the money,” Costa Mesa Police Sgt. Jerry Holloway said. “Any taxes, etc., are deducted from the prize money and the net proceeds are given to the winners.”

Eric Chase Larson, 54, was arrested Saturday at a Studio City motel on suspicion of criminal conspiracy. Investigators said they have linked Larson, also known as Frank Campbell and John Reynolds, and a partner to a scheme targeting mostly senior citizens living in northeastern states.


A senior support group in Phoenix alerted Costa Mesa police to the alleged scheme after a Michigan couple were told by a caller to send $1,000 to a Costa Mesa motel, Police Investigator George Johnson said. The caller allegedly told the couple they had won $20,000 in a sweepstakes and needed to send the cash to the motel before collecting the prize.

“He doesn’t stay where he has the packages delivered,” Johnson said. “He would call the motel and tell them that he’s checking in in a couple of days and is expecting some packages, and then asks them, ‘Can you hang on to them until I get there?’ ”

In June, Costa Mesa police detectives said they staked out the Ramada Limited in the 1600 block of Superior Avenue and arrested Debra Hancock when she tried to pick up several packages, including one from the Michigan couple. Hancock, identified by police as Larson’s accomplice, was arrested on suspicion of conspiring to commit a crime.

Subsequent investigation led police to Larson, whom authorities identified as the primary suspect.

Detectives also have identified several other victims, Johnson said.

Among those targeted in the alleged scam was an Ohio woman in her 70s who previously lost $40,000 in similar operations and called the police after “finally beginning to recognize that perhaps this is a problem,” Johnson said.

Another woman sent $598 to claim a $30,000 prize, he said.