Sweepstakes Scammers Threaten Elderly Consumers

September 29, 2011

Sweepstakes scams aimed at the elderly have taken a scary turn, according to The Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection.  Under the typical sweepstakes scam, consumers are informed (by mail, phone or email) that they have won a huge sum of money in a sweepstakes; but in order to receive the prize money, the consumer must first wire a couple of thousand dollars for processing fees, insurance or taxes.  Sometimes the scammers send a check to cover that amount, which invariably turns out to be counterfeit. Needless to say, the big check for the million dollar prize never materializes and the consumers are swindled out of the money that they wired.

“The new slant we are seeing now is the use of intimidation tactics,” explains Administrator John Sours.  “Scammers are telling consumers they will come to their house to escort them to the bank.  Several consumers who have confronted the caller about it being a scam have been threatened that harm would come to them or their families.”

The Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection urges consumers to contact the police if a stranger threatens to come to their home or cause them harm. In addition, the agency warns consumers to be wary of the following signs of a sweepstakes or lottery fraud:

  • You are a winner, but you don’t recall ever entering the contest. This may sound obvious, but many people are so excited about winning that they don’t stop and wonder how their name could have been drawn.  And even if you have entered a sweepstakes, keep in mind that the actual chances of winning are very slim. For example, the odds of winning the grand prize in the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes are 1 in 1.75 billion.

  • You have to pay to receive your prize. Legitimate sweepstakes will NEVER require you to purchase anything or pay a fee in order to claim a prize. 

  • You are asked to wire money. Scammers love to use wire transfer services because it is virtually impossible to trace who received the money or for the sender to recoup any money after it has been sent.

  • You are asked to provide your bank or credit card account.  Scammers want access to your money. So they offer the convenient option to have your “winnings” deposited directly in your bank account.  Then they turn around and drain your account.  Never give out your financial account information to a stranger.

  • The letter announcing your win contains typos. Sweepstakes scams are often perpetrated by people outside of the United States. If you receive a prize notification containing many typos or which sounds like it was written by a non-English speaker, it is probably a scam.

  • The letter claims to come from a government institution. In order to look more legitimate, scammers may claim they are with a government entity, often inventing such agency names. The fact is, government organizations are NOT involved in awarding sweepstakes prizes.

If you receive a fake sweepstakes solicitation or if you have been the victim of a sweepstakes scam, contact the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection at 404-651-8600 or 1-800-869-1123. You can also report the incident to the National Fraud Center at www.fraud.org.