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Publisher’s Clearing House rescues laid-off Lindenhurst mom

Susan Bensher husbJohn Lindenhurst hold $50000 oversized check thSusan received from Publishers Clearing House. Susan wby playing on-line Publishers Clearing

Susan Benson and her husband, John, of Lindenhurst hold a $50,000 oversized check that Susan received from Publishers Clearing House. Susan won by playing the on-line Publishers Clearing House Lotto scratch card game. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 9, 2012 1:15AM

LINDENHURST — If you’ve ever wondered how a Publisher’s Clearing House Prize Patrol ends up springing a complete surprise at someone’s doorstep, part of the answer was revealed around 11 a.m. Tuesday outside an apartment on Dittmer Lane.

“Is this Susan?” asked Prize Patrol member Danielle Lam after ringing the intercom buzzer.

“Yes,” said the voice on the other end. “Who is this?”

“I’m with UPS,” Lam said. “I have a package you need to sign for.”

With that, the wheels were truly in motion on a mission that began with Lam and co-worker Laura Derr catching a predawn flight from New York, then renting a van at O’Hare International Airport and driving to Laura’s Flower Shoppe in Lake Villa to collect a dozen red roses and fill company-logo balloons with helium.

As those balloons were filled, Lam, who has been traveling the nation for the past four years handing out oversized checks, said part of the adventure is not knowing where she’ll be going — and if the winner will even be at home.

“It’s totally random. The winners are pulled at random, and they don’t know we’re coming,” she said. “It’s kind of fun when they’re not home, because we try to find out where they are. We knock on neighbors’ doors to see if they know their schedule or where they work, and then it’s more fun because we get to go there and everybody’s surprised.”

Lam added that there was at least one time when she sat in a car for five hours waiting to surprise someone after there was no answer at the door. On Tuesday, after making the drive to the Mallard Ridge apartment complex off Grand Avenue, it ended up taking longer to tape the Prize Patrol sign on the rental van than it did for Susan Benson to come to the door for her alleged UPS delivery.

“I am not ready for this!” Benson said with a laugh upon seeing smiling strangers at her door with flowers, balloons and cameras. After confirming that she was the Susan Benson they were looking for, Lam put the oversized check into play.

“What would you think if we say you won $50,000 from Publisher’s Clearing House?” said Lam, turning the check around for Benson to see.

“Oh, I would say that’s a lifesaver,” an emotional Benson said. “Thank you so much — I’m unemployed, and, oh, this is wonderful.”

Embracing Lam and Derr as the cameras snapped and rolled, Benson added that “I should have put lipstick on.” While the initial shock wore off, Benson talked about how she was downsized two years ago from a customer-service position at the company where her husband, John, still works the night shift.

“My kids are in college, so that’ll pay a few bills,” she said, holding up a smaller, legitimate version of the $50,000 check. “I keep telling (my family) — because I play all the time, and I say, ‘I have to play my games today’ — that ‘I’m going to win. I know I’m going to win.’ So I did ... and I’m shaking.”

Benson was the latest in a series of winners of PCHLotto, an online game that is awarding a total of $1.25 million through Dec. 12. In fact, she admitted that she was logged onto the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Web site when the doorbell rang Tuesday.

“I’m playing my games right now,” she told Lam and Derr. “I put the computer down and said, ‘Who’s at the door?’”

Everyone involved was no doubt relieved that she decided to answer.

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