Fraudulent win notices for lotteries or sweepstakes promise prizes or big bucks and ask for personal information or funds to cover taxes or fees. Consumers often receive a check with their win notice, which turns out to be fraudulent.
- Application asks for detailed personal information.
- The consumer doesn't remember entering the contest. Lottery tickets must be purchased, sweepstakes usually involve application paperwork, and government grants have a thorough application process.
- The consumer is asked to forward a portion of the money received back to the sender or to another company to pay for taxes, shipping, fees, etc.
- The name on the check does not match the name of the company or person the consumer is dealing with.
- A lottery application or win announcement comes via telephone or mail from outside the country.
Fake win notice: A consumer receives a win notice, check and instructions to forward funds for shipping, taxes or other fees. The check ends up being fake or stolen from another person or business. Lucky people who try to deposit the scam check get stopped by a bank teller. However, with better printing and computer technologies, consumers are often able to deposit the check. After transferring funds, victims discover they’ve actually transferred funds to the scam artist. Then the money from the check never comes or arrives but is stolen from another person or business’ account. This can put a freeze on the consumer’s account and requires the consumer to pay back the money to the rightful owner, including the funds they thought they sent for fees, but actually sent to the scam artist.
- Check out businesses. Get a free BBB Reliability Report at www.bbb.org.
- Don't pay to collect winnings. In legitimate cases, shipping and other fees are taken out of the winnings before the money is sent. Taxes on winnings would be handled with tax returns to the IRS.
- Verify that the check is legitimate. Independently verify that the check is drawn from an actual account at a legitimate financial institution. Do not rely on the telephone number listed on the check. Use directory assistance to get the telephone number of the financial institution and call them to verify the check. Do not use the money until the funds have been collected by your financial institution. Funds “availability” is not good enough. It is a red flag if the company name on the check does not match the name of the business writing the letter.
- Beware of foreign lotteries. Playing a foreign lottery, via telephone or mail, is against federal law.
Specific Scheme Examples:
Publishers Clearing House Win Notice. Fake sweepstakes notices or phony calls come from Publishers Clearing House (PCH) impersonators promising a huge prize. Tips to identity real vs. fake PCH sweepstakes can be found at pch.com.
- Prize winners will not be notified by phone or regular mail. Consumers who win over $10,000 will be awarded in person by the PCH Prize Patrol, with no advance notification. Those who win less than $10,000 will receive an affidavit via certified mail. Additionally, PCH does send out post cards and mailings promoting their services and surveys.
- At the real Publishers Clearing House, the winning is always free. Do not send or wire any money in order to collect the prize. Don't trust anyone requesting payment for "taxes," "custom fees," "border security" or other purported reasons.
- If suspicious of a fraudulent call, letter, e-mail or check from someone claiming to be from Publishers Clearing House, contact the actual PCH at 1-800-645-9242 then press 5.
Reader's Digest Sweepstakes Win Notice. Fake Reader's Digest Sweepstakes have been circulating across the country for years. To appear legitimate, fake letters sometimes use well known business logos or misuse BBB's Accredited Business logo to falsely imply BBB Accreditation. The real Reader's Digest is a BBB Accredited Business and does have a real sweepstakes; however, scam artists frequently impersonate them. To check legitimacy:
- Visit the legitimate Reader's Digest Sweepstakes page at www.rd.com/sweepstakes.
- Don't call the phone number on the notification; use a trusted Reader's Digest source. Their website shows the customer service number is 1-800-310-2181.
Better Business Bureau Lotto Scam. Consumers receive a call, e-mail or knock on the door from a person saying they won the BBB Lotto. Some callers claim to be from Winners International and others claim to be with Better Business Bureau. Tips:
- BBB does not have a lottery.
- BBB does not solicit door-to-door.
- Verify claims that use BBB's name. Visit www.bbb.org to find contact information for your local office: Call to ask questions regarding BBB, report false use of BBB's name, or verify if a caller is a legitimate BBB representative.
If you receive a fake check, dispose of it properly by shredding it.
If victimized by a fake or stolen check:
- Report check fraud to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov.
- Report postal mail fraud to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at http://postalinspectors.uspis.gov.
- File complaints against businesses at www.bbb.org.
- If the phony check was drawn on a federally insured financial institution contact the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation at 877-275-3342 or www.fdic.gov.
- If the phony check was drawn on a foreign bank, contact the United States Secret Service by visiting www.secretservice.gov.
- If the phony check comes from scam artists impersonating a real business or organization, notify that business or organization.