Consumers regularly inform Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) they’ve received notices in the mail informing them they’ve won a Publisher’s Clearing House, Reader’s Digest, or some other official-sounding sweepstakes. Along with these notices, consumers usually receive checks ranging from several hundred to a few thousand dollars. BBB always advises the public not to cash these checks, as they are not legitimate.
Sweepstakes scams regularly make the BBB’s Top Ten list of scams each year. They begin when consumers receive a letter in the mail claiming – falsely – to be from Publisher’s Clearing House (PCH) sweepstakes or any number of phony lotteries, stating the recipient has won a significant amount of money; sometimes even millions of dollars. These letters are usually accompanied by checks that supposedly represent only a small portion of the total winnings. In order to get the rest, people are told to deposit the check and then wire funds back to the scammers, supposedly to cover taxes, insurance or other bogus fees. Unfortunate people who follow these instructions quickly discover their “prizes” are non-existent and they are out any funds they sent away.
On their website, Publishers Clearing House states they will never call on the phone announcing winners, and will never ask for fees. Their website also states:
- Whether contacted by mail, phone or e-mail, remember: no legitimate sweepstakes company will ever ask you to pay or send money to claim a prize. It’s prohibited and unlawful.
Scammers also use email and phone calls to attempt sweepstakes fraud. A tactic phone scammers will use to “sweeten the pot” is the promise of a new BMW – or other luxury car – in addition to the alleged sweepstakes win. Though these calls sound good and the callers will even promise to deliver the prizes right to your front door, it’s all bogus. None of it is real.
Consumers can often spot a fraudulent sweepstakes notice by simply applying common sense. Commonly, the postmark on these letters doesn’t match up with the organization that supposedly drafted the accompanying check. Many of these notices also – fraudulently – use the logos of national companies in an effort to make the letters look more official. Also, the phone numbers listed on these notices often have Canadian prefixes. Many sweepstakes scams originate in Canada.
To further help consumers identify a lottery or sweepstakes scam, BBB provides the following checklist:
- Was the lottery notification delivered to you by mail or email? If you receive a winning lottery notification by regular mail or email, it’s fraudulent. Legitimate lottery companies will usually send winning notices by certified mail, Federal Express, UPS or DHL delivery services.
- Does the notification appear to come from another country? Organizations behind these frauds operate under different names, often derived from well-known lotteries in other countries. U.S. citizens should know that it is illegal to participate in a foreign lottery by using U.S. mail services.
- Were you sent a check or money order with your notification? Fraudulent promoters will sometimes send a check or money order along with the notification to convince you they are real. While the checks and money orders may look official, they are counterfeit!
- Are you asked to wire money or mail a personal check to cover some type of fee or taxes? Shady operators will ask you to deposit the check or money order and then instruct you to wire money or send a personal check back to them to cover what may seem like legitimate costs, such as processing, administrative, or handling fees – or taxes. They also may instruct you to load funds on a prepaid debit card. Be aware that if you share the number on the back of that card with another person, that person will have access to those funds. Also, if you deposit a bogus check in your bank account, keep in mind that you will be held responsible for any money you spend or send to someone else.
- Does the lottery promoter’s name and address on the check match the name and address on the envelope? In many instances it does not. Sponsors of legitimate lotteries and sweepstakes identify themselves prominently on their checks and on the envelopes.
- Are the notifications sent by people claiming to be bankers, gaming officials, claims agents, tax collectors, attorneys, or a high ranking government official? Scam artists will use any number of titles in an effort to convince you that they are legitimate. They have even – falsely – claimed affiliations with BBB and the FTC.
BBB wants everyone to understand that on a national level lottery scams steal millions of dollars from unsuspecting people every year. If you receive any form of notification that you’re a prize winner in a lottery or sweepstakes, contact BBB (bbb.org) before you become the next victim in this type of scheme.
The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. We are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the BBB at bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.