Don’t get swept away by phony sweepstakes
By Attorney General Roy Cooper
Would you like win a foreign lottery or be a finalist for a sweepstakes prize? Who wouldn’t? But when you get that call, email or letter saying you’ve won, don’t spend the promised winnings just yet. Scammers often use the lure of prizes to steal your money and your personal financial information. Some North Carolina victims have recently lost as much as $750,000 each to sweepstakes scams.
How can you tell if a prize you’re offered is a scam? The scammers will follow the exciting announcement that you’ve won with a request that you first send them money to cover taxes, fees, shipping or other costs—even though it’s illegal in most places, including North Carolina, to require purchases or the payment of fees and taxes upfront before you can receive a prize.
In some cases, the scammers may send you a legitimate looking check that is supposed to cover those so-called taxes and fees. But once you deposit the check in your account and then wire the money back to them, the check turns out to be fake—just like the promised prize. That leaves you with a depleted checking account.
We’ve cracked down on these phony checks and fraudulent wire transfers and people are getting wiser about avoiding them, so fraud artists are coming up with other ways to get you to send them money.
The scammers may instead ask you to put money onto a Green Dot reloadable debit card, available at stores such as Wal-Mart, and give them the card’s account number so they can drain the funds. Or they may ask you to order expensive items online, such as computers and big screen televisions, and have them delivered directly to the scammer. They may ask you to send cash via FedEx or UPS, and they may even fool you into collecting cash from other U.S. victims to send overseas.
Many of these sweepstakes and lottery scams originate in other countries, and my office works with federal and international law enforcement to try to stop them. We recently helped send two Canadian crooks to federal prison for running a sweepstakes scam that ripped off North Carolina seniors. But it’s tough to get your money back so the best way to stop these scammers is to avoid their pitches.
If someone tells you that you’ve won a sweepstakes:
- Be skeptical. If you don’t remember entering the contest, it’s probably a scam.
- Never give personal information, such as your social security number or bank account number, to someone you don’t know who calls you or sends you an email or letter.
- Never agree to wire or send money in order to claim a prize. It’s illegal to require an upfront fee for a prize, so anyone who asks you to pay one is a scam artist.
- Don’t deposit even legitimate looking checks that come with a letter telling you that you’ve won a sweepstakes or lottery.
- Report possible scams to the Attorney General’s Office by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free within North Carolina or file a complaint a www.ncdoj.gov.
To help cut down on the number of sweepstakes offers and solicitations you receive:
- Sign up for the Do Not Call Registry, by calling (888) 382-1222. Once you’ve signed up, you’ll know that any telemarketer who calls you could be a scammer.
- Don’t enter any sweepstakes or buy anything through a sweepstakes.
- If you get a sweepstakes mailing, write to the company and ask to be put on its do not contact list.
- Have your name taken off of mail marketing lists. Write to: Direct Marketing Association Mail Preference Service, PO Box 64, Carmel, NY 10512
- Use a spam filter to cut down on phony emails about sweepstakes and lotteries.