BBB Warns of Sweepstakes Scam

Heads Up! The Better Business Bureau is flying a warning flag about a sweepstakes scam that's apparently spoofing the BBB.

The bureau says the scam came to light when a resident of Wausa, Nebraska received a phone call saying he had won $450,000 through the American Family Network. The caller told him that before the money could be delivered, he would have to pay $4,500 as a condition of the Patriot Act.

The recipient of the phone call said he didn't have the money.

He then got a call from someone else saying they'd arranged a $3,000 loan for him and he would only need to send a cashier's check for $1,500 to receive the prize.

The Wausa man didn't send any money.

He then got a call from someone claiming to be an attorney from Las Vegas representing the American Family Network and the "Vegas attorney" tried to convince him to pay the $1,500.

The "Nebraska prize winner" told the "Vegas attorney" that he had contacted the Better Business Bureau and the bureau told him he should not have to pay anything to collect a sweepstakes prize. He provided the "Vegas attorney" with the phone number for the BBB in Omaha and the "attorney" said he'd have someone from the bureau call him back to verify that things were on the up-and-up.

The next time the phone rang in Wausa, it was a caller who identified herself with a Jamaican accent as "Linda Brown" and the "prize winner's" Caller ID indicated that the call was originating from the BBB's main phone number. That was an electronic stunt. There is no Linda Brown employed at the BBB.

BBB President Jim Hegarty said, “The Better Business Bureau has absolutely no affiliation with this fraudulent operation. I advise consumers to be extremely leery of letters, faxes, emails or phone calls telling them they’ve won prizes, lotteries or sweepstakes. Remember, phone numbers can deceive."

He added that, "Internet technology allows con artists to disguise their area code so it looks like they’re calling from your local area. But they could be calling from anywhere in the world. Many of these calls come from boiler rooms in Jamaica, and anyone playing along with them guarantees the only real winners will be the scammers.”

If you get a call telling you that you are a winner, BBB recommends that you look for these red flags:

  • Lottery tickets must be purchased. Sweepstakes usually involve application paperwork that you have completed.
  • Don’t pay any money to collect supposed 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 from the caller to send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier. Con artists recommend these services so they can get their hands on your money before you realize you’ve been cheated.
  • A lottery application or win announcement comes via telephone or mail from outside the country.
  • The letter, fax or email is full of grammatical and spelling errors.
  • The caller is pressuring for personal information.

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