7On your side: Sweepstakes scam - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

7 On Your Side: Sweepstakes scam


Better Business Bureau officials say people fall for it all the time -- a caller who says you've won a big prize but must pay to claim it. A local woman who heard their crooked pitch did the smart thing.

"They said, 'Ms. Fontenot, you all have won $500,000 and I want you to know we're going to be at your house delivering it on Friday between ten and two. What do you think about that?' And I said, 'Well, I think that's good if I really won it,' " said Carolyn Fontenot.

Fontenot wasn't fooled when someone called saying she and her husband had won a half million dollars.

"She said, 'Well, before we can process this claim we are going to have to have a security deposit of $2500.'  I said,'Well, who is doing this?' " She said, " 'The Metro Asia Financial Group, Metro Asia Financial Group and it was sponsored by the U.S. Government," said Fontenot.

The scammers keep getting more sophisticated. In this case, one of the voices on the phone claimed to be a tax attorney.

"She said, 'I'm sorry, I should have told you, my name is Diane Rothchild. And we're in St. Paul, Minnesota.' " I said, " 'Well do you work for a lawyer?' " She said, " 'No, I'm a tax attorney, but I work in the office of Bradshaw and Company.' "

Carolyn turned the tables on them when she said she needed her own attorney to handle the transaction.

" 'Oh no, mam.' "  I said, " 'Why not?' " She said, " 'We had to sign a federal confidentiality agreement.'" 

"I have to talk to my lawyer, and she said, 'Well go talk to your lawyer and I'll call you in an hour,' Bam -- the phone went down."

Carmen Million with the Southwest Louisiana  Better Business Bureau said people do fall for such scams.

"We've had calls from consumers who have lost as much as $25,000 from these scams," said Million.

She said Carolyn did exactly the right thing.

"She handled it perfectly because she asked questions, she knew it was probably a scam but she really asked the right questions. She didn't give out any personal financial information which is probably the most important thing," said Million.

They wanted Carolyn to wire the money to the Philippines, but by then she was through with them.

Following this story is a news release with tips from the SWLA Better Business Bureau.

Copyright 2013 KPLC All rights reserved

Lottery / Sweepstake Scams

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.

Red Flags:

    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.

Problems Reported:

Personal information required on applications: Some applications request detailed personal information. If the source is illegitimate or the privacy policy is ambiguous, consumers who provide personal or financial details could become victims of identity theft or financial fraud.
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.

 BBB Tips:

    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 web site 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.

Report Scams:
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.

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