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RECOGNIZE Phone Fraud Learn about common telemarketing scams and how to avoid them.
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Sweepstakes & Lotteries Scams

Congratulations, it's your lucky day! You've just won $5,000!

If you get a phone call or a letter with a message like this, be skeptical. Scam artists often use the promise of a valuable prize or award to entice consumers to send money, buy overpriced products or services, or contribute to bogus charities. People who fall for their ploys may end up paying more and more for the products — if they ever get them at all.

How to avoid prize and sweepstakes fraud

The next time you get a "personal" telephone call or letter telling you "it's your lucky day," remember:

  • Don't pay to collect sweepstakes winnings. If you have to pay to collect your winnings, you're not winning — you're buying. Legitimate sweepstakes don't require you to pay "insurance," "taxes", or "shipping and handling charges" to collect your prize.

  • Hold on to your money. Scammers pressure people to wire money through commercial money transfer companies because wiring money is the same as sending cash. When the money's gone, there's very little chance of recovery. Likewise, resist any push to send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier. Con artists recommend these services so they can get to your money before you realize you've been cheated.

  • Phone numbers can deceive. Some con artists use Internet technology to call you. It allows them to disguise their area code: although it may look like they're calling from your local area, they could be calling from anywhere in the world.

How to recognize a reloader

  • Their offer requires a "recovery fee." Legitimate organizations, like national, state, and local consumer enforcement agencies and non-profit organizations, do not charge or guarantee results for their services to help you get your money back from a telemarketing fraud.

  • Their offer requires you to wire money or send it by a courier.

  • They contact you several times to urge you to buy more merchandise to increase your chances of winning so-called valuable prizes.

Fake Check Scams

It's your lucky day! You just won a foreign lottery! The caller says so. And they are sending a cashier's check to cover the taxes and fees. All you have to do to get your winnings is deposit the check and wire the money to the sender to pay the taxes and fees. You're guaranteed that when they get your payment, you'll get your prize.

There's just one catch: this is a scam. The check is no good, even though it appears to be a legitimate cashier's check. The lottery angle is a trick to get you to wire money to someone you don't know. If you were to deposit the check and wire the money, your bank would soon learn that the check was a fake. And you would be out the money: The money you wired can't be recovered, and you're responsible for the checks you deposit - even though you don't know they're fake.

International Lottery Scams

“Congratulations! You may receive a certified check for up to $400,000 U.S. CASH! Tax free! Your odds to WIN are 1-6.” “Hundreds of U.S. citizens win every week using our secret system! You can win as much as you want!”

Sound great? It's a fraud.

Scam operators — often based in Canada — are using the telephone to entice U.S. consumers to buy chances in high-stakes foreign lotteries from as far away as Australia and Europe. These lottery solicitations violate U.S. law, which prohibits the cross-border sale or purchase of lottery tickets by phone or mail.

The FTC has these words of caution for consumers who are thinking about responding to a foreign lottery:

1. If you play a foreign lottery —on the telephone or through the mail — you're violating federal law.

2. There are no secret systems for winning foreign lotteries. Your chances of winning more than the cost of your tickets are slim to none.

3. If you purchase one foreign lottery ticket, expect many more bogus offers for lottery or investment “opportunities.” Your name will be placed on “sucker lists” that fraudulent telemarketers buy and sell.

4. Keep your credit card and bank account numbers to yourself. Scam artists often ask for them during an unsolicited sales pitch.

5. The bottom line: Ignore all phone solicitations for foreign lottery promotions. If you receive what looks like lottery material from a foreign country, give it to your local postmaster.

FTC Publications

More Resources

"I received a call from a man who told me I won a million dollars in a Canadian lottery, but before I could collect the money, I would have to pay taxes. The man told me to send a cashier's check for $750 to their representative in Jamaica. Over the next year I sent money on 13 occasions totaling almost $500,000. The man had instructed me to send money, via cashier's checks, in $9,999 increments. The last payment sent was for about $50,000. The bank put a stop on this transaction and informed me that I was probably a victim of a scam. Since last month, the man has left over a dozen voicemail messages for me. I've stopped taking his calls. The whole thing makes me very nervous."