Judy Herbst Brown of North Platte received several phone calls informing her that she won the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes.

The man said she could claim her big prizes, as long as she sent a $485 gift card first.

Herbst was grateful she’d read the Bulletin’s May 20 article about the same scam. In that case, a man who claimed to be David Johnson called Editor George Lauby and told him he’d won the sweepstakes and a new Mercedes car and $1.5 million was on the way. All he had to do was send the receipt for a “one vanilla” gift card in the amount of $225.

Evidently, the financial stakes in the scam have increased since then. Brown’s caller – “Andrew Goldberg” — said her Mercedes had already shipped, along with a $5,000 check to cover license and insurance. And, he told Brown she’d won a big check — $3.5 million. An attorney’s entourage was in North Platte, ready to deliver the check.

All she had to do first was buy a one vanilla gift card for $485.

Brown was already skeptical. When she heard the words “gift card,” it confirmed her suspicions that it was all a scam, remembering the Bulletin article.

She played along. She told “Goldberg” that she couldn’t get the card right away because she had to get ready to go to a funeral.

He advised her to skip the funeral. When she said she couldn’t do that, he said he would have to call her back.

When she returned from the funeral, she had a half-dozen calls on her answer machine from a phone number in Jamaica. She said the caller called every five minutes or so while she was gone, hanging up without leaving a message.

When Goldberg finally reached her, she asked why he was calling from Jamaica.

He said he was calling from Jamaica, NY.

So Brown called her phone company, NT&T in Omaha, and gave them the number. It was a phone in Jamaica all right. The NT&T customer assistant said they get a lot of complaints about calls from there.

According to the Publisher’s Clearing House website, sweepstakes winners are not contacted by email or by telephone if the prizes are worth more than a couple hundred dollars. When winnings are more than that, Clearing House representatives appear in person or send a certified letter.

If you get a call telling you you’ve won the sweepstakes, PCH has a toll-free number to verify information — 877-3SWEEPS (1-877-379-3377).

Also, the Federal Trade Commission advises you to hang up immediately if you get a phone call claiming to be from Publishers Clearing House and report the call to the FTC, no matter how many times someone tells you’re a big winner and your life is about to change for the better, as soon as you buy a gift card and send them the receipt.