You’ve won! Beware of sweepstakes and lottery scams

Money raining from the skyIf there’s one old adage you should take to heart and live by, it is this: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Here’s a real world application: You get an email, phone call or letter telling you that you’ve just won a sweepstakes or lottery that you never entered. Do this: throw it out. And if the correspondent asks you for money in the form of a processing or transaction fee, run, don’t walk, to report it to state or federal fraud authorities.

These phony “wins” are part of a network of sweepstakes and lottery scams that are proliferating like bad weeds. They proliferate because, unfortunately, they have a lot of takers — probably because most people have fantasies of winning. Criminals are devious, persistent, and expert at targeting our human foibles: our fears, our hopes, our carelessness – and our greed.

The November Consumer Reports focuses on fraud targeting the elderly, and they feature one article — Anatomy of a Swindle — that outlines how these sweepstakes scams work. And while the issue deals with fraud aimed at the elderly, people of all ages are susceptible to fraud. Read the article, and if you have elderly friends or relatives, make sure they are familiar with these scams too.

The FTC offers a must-read about common warning signs for prize scams. It’s worth a quick read.

The FBI also offers information about frequent scams and tips for avoiding fraud. These three are particularly relevant to this type of fraud:

  • Don’t pay for a “free prize.” If a caller tells you the payment is for taxes, he or she is violating federal law.
  • Always take your time making a decision. Legitimate companies won’t pressure you to make a snap decision.
  • Never send money or give out personal information such as credit card numbers and expiration dates, bank account numbers, dates of birth, or social security numbers to unfamiliar companies or unknown persons.

How to file a complaint

If you have a scam or fraud complaint, here are several ways to file a report.