A sweepstakes scam which conned a consumer in Roanoke, Virginia recently leads back to Duluth, Minnesota. The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) was contacted by the BBB of Western Virginia last week after a consumer in their area reported mailing a money order to someone in Duluth to pay fees on purported sweepstakes winnings of $1.5 million dollars. The winnings were non-existent and the consumer lost the money they sent to the Duluth address.
The BBB advises consumers to be extremely leery of letters, faxes, emails or phone calls telling them they’ve won prizes, lotteries or sweepstakes. “Sweepstakes scams are prevalent nationwide and they tantalize people with promises of instant wealth for relatively low upfront payments,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB. “For a chance at a big payday, many people figure laying out $500 to $3,500 of their own money is worth any risk. We’re here to tell you it’s not.”
In the case of the Roanoke consumer, they were contacted by phone and told they had won the prize of $1.5 million dollars. Originally, they were told they would need to pay $3,500 upfront to receive their winnings, but the consumer told the scammers they couldn’t afford that. After settling on a fee of $250, the consumer mailed that amount to a Duluth address. According to the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), which investigated this matter, there is an individual in Duluth actively participating in this scam. This individual is believed to be keeping a small portion of payments they collect and wiring the rest to Jamaica, a hotbed for scams targeting Americans. This person has been warned their mail will be monitored and that they run the risk of being arrested if they continue to process payments from victims of this scam.
“Postal Inspectors want to remind individuals if you are contacted by anyone that directs you to send money to pay for a prize or sweepstakes that you have won, odds are it’s a scam,”said U.S. Postal Inspector Jeffery Long. “Before you send money away, run the offer by a friend or family member to see if they think it’s a good idea. Always be sure to do your homework first.”
Sweepstakes and lottery scams steal millions of dollars from unsuspecting people every year. Legitimate lottery or sweepstakes companies will never ask you to pay money upfront in order to collect your winnings. They will also not ask you for personal information. If you receive any form of notification that you are a prize winner in a lottery or sweepstakes, contact the BBB (www.bbb.org) and check it out before you become the next victim of this type of scheme.
If you fall victim to a sweepstakes scam, report your experience to local law enforcement. If the mail service was involved, you should contact the USPIS at https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/.
The BBB is also warning consumers not to take part in perpetrating sweepstakes scams. People sometimes respond to job postings they find online offering employment processing payments or shipping merchandise from their homes. They often don’t realize they’re going to work for scammers and their ‘job’ involves forwarding payments from scam victims or reshipping stolen merchandise (or merchandise paid for with stolen credit cards) out of the country. Worse, their compensation is a small portion of the illicit proceeds they forward on to the operators of the scam or a flat payment for each order they re-ship. According to the USPIS, people who assist criminals in schemes like this are committing a felony. To avoid becoming tangled up in a reshipping scam, consumers are advised to steer clear of any questionable employment offers and not to accept packages at their address for people they don’t know.
If you’ve been tricked into participating in one of these reshipping scams, you should:
- Cease communication with operators who try to solicit your help in reshipping items.
- Keep all correspondence (emails, faxes, etc.) related to these scams.
- If you already have merchandise from such an offer, don’t mail it. Contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 1-877-876-2455. They’ll help return stolen items back to the rightful owners.
The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to promote through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill public confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, protect and assist the public. Contact the BBB at www.thefirstbbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.