Madison man says father lost $31,000 in ‘prize’ scam

Madison man says father lost $31,000 in ‘prize’ scam

It was a prize that was too good to be true, and now a Baraboo man is out $31,000. Derlan Kuhnau, 90, fell for an old scam that Wisconsin’s Division of Consumer Protection officials said is making a comeback.

It’s called a “prize” scam. Someone calls you, tells you you’ve won a prize, and that you have to pay a fee in order to get it. Kuhnau, a retired cop, fell victim to the scam. His son Craig wants to share the story as a lesson to others.

It was the best of intentions gone horribly wrong.

“He wanted to surprise his kids, he wanted to give them something they’d never had before,” Craig said.

A few weeks ago, Derlan received a letter claiming he’d won more than $1 million from Publishers Clearing House. The letter was followed by multiple phone calls from scammers posing as company representatives and even lawyers, assuring him he’d won a contest.

“They made him feel so comfortable and so good, that all of this seemed so legitimate that it only could be real,” Craig said.

But it wasn’t legitimate. By the time Derlan realized he was being scammed, he had already wired $31,000. He was told it was for a fee he needed to pay before claiming his prize.

“He could’ve paid off a major portion of his mortgage,” Craig said of the money that was lost.

Frank Frassetto, an administrator in the division of trade and consumer protection at Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, said he’s seeing an uptick in this type of scam.

“If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” he said.

Frassetto suggested anyone who is being told they won a prize to think back and remember if you even entered a contest. If you didn’t, odds are you didn’t win one, he says. He also says don’t give away any money upfront, because if you’ve won a free prize, you shouldn’t have to pay for it. Be sure to double check with a local consumer agency to make sure the contest is legitimate.

Craig knows his father will probably never see a dime of that money, and he wants to make sure other families don’t go through the same thing.

“You don’t think about it so much until it hits you or one of your loved ones, and then it becomes reality,” he said.

Derlen’s family said Derlan didn’t lose all of his savings and should be OK. Contact DATCP for more information on similar scams.

You can email datcphotline@wisconsin.gov or call the DATCP toll-free hotline at 800-422-7128.