“You’ve won a free gift or the lottery, but…”
Sweepstake and Lottery Scams
Congratulations! You have just won the lottery and will be receiving a certified check for $200,000 U.S. CASH! Many lottery and sweepstake letters, e-mails, or phone calls are not legitimate and often based in international locations such as Canada or Nigeria. Con artists will generally convince consumers to send in money to claim a “prize” and the only thing that separates them from their “winnings” is a fee (for administration, processing, taxes, etc.) and proof of identity. Some general tips to recognize a scam include:
- You did not buy a ticket. You HAVE to buy a ticket to win a lottery.
- You do not live in or are not a citizen of the lottery country. Most lotteries are only open to residents of the country or state in which the game is played. It is illegal for U.S. citizens to enter foreign lotteries.
- You cannot find the lottery name except on sites listing scam e-mails.
- The e-mail or requestor asks for bank account information, driver’s license numbers, or other personal information.
- To claim your prize, you might be required to travel overseas at your own expense (and personal risk).
Further information on sweepstake and lottery scams can be located through the Federal Trade Commission or a simple “lottery scams” Internet search will provide other helpful advice and a listing of fake lottery companies.
Nigerian Advance Fee Fraud
This type of fraud first started in Nigeria, but is now prevalent in many countries. You receive an “urgent” letter or e-mail from an alleged “official” representing a foreign government or agency offering the recipient an “opportunity” to share in a percentage of millions of dollars. Common forms of this type of fraud include: disbursement of money from wills, purchase of real estate, transfer of funds from over-invoiced contracts, sale of goods, found monies, or contest/lottery winnings.
The fraudster may offer to transfer large sums of money into a victim’s personal bank account, which would necessitate the victim providing personal information (and possibly future identity theft). Another scheme may require the victim to deposit a check into their account and immediately wire a portion of the money to a third party outside of the country. These are generally counterfeit checks and the victim ends up with nothing but a loss of funds. Further information regarding this type of advance, up-front fee scheme can be found in the following links:
United States Department of State
Local Secret Service Office (if you have suffered a significant loss)
Fake Check Scams
Fake check scams start when someone gives you a realistic-looking check or money order and asks you to wire them money in return. The check is phony and it may take weeks to discover. The bank cannot be sure the check is valid and now wants the money back after the check is returned as a counterfeit. You are responsible for checks or money orders that you deposit, even if they are fake. There is no legitimate reason why anyone would give you a check or money order and ask you to wire money in return. Learn more at www.fakechecks.org where you can take a fraud test, review videos, and learn prevention tips. The Federal Trade Commission’s Money Matters also provides helpful advice on avoiding money wiring scams.
Other Fraud-Related Resources
The following is a list of links that may provide additional information on common fraud schemes:
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Federal Reserve Bank
Internet Crime Complaint Center
Consumer Federation of America