Easy money in hard times? Don't fall for it
By Attorney General Roy Cooper
While more and more North Carolinians are out of work, con artists and crooks are working full time to prey on unsuspecting victims using fake sweepstakes and lottery pitches.
You may get a telephone call, email or letter telling you that you’ve won a foreign lottery, or urging you to apply for a sweepstakes because you’re already a finalist. During these uncertain economic times, the promise of easy money can be especially tempting. But be skeptical becausescammers use the promise of winnings to try to steal your money and your personal financial information.
Remember, it’s illegal in most places, including North Carolina, to require purchases or the payment of fees and taxes upfront before you can receive a prize.
In some cases, the scammers may send you a very legitimate looking check that is supposed to cover taxes and fees you’re told to pay before you can claim your prize. Once you cash the check and wire the money, the check turns out to be fake—just like the promised prize.
My office recently heard from a consumer who received an email pretending to come from Powerball, directing her to a legitimate-looking website to claim her $1.5 million prize. The website looked identical to the real Powerball website but had the wrong telephone number and email address. Luckily, the consumer realized she had not purchased a Powerball ticket and decided to call my office and report the scam.
Also beware of the so-called Nigerian letter scam
, which starts with a letter, fax, or email asking for help transferring money out of a foreign country. If you let the writer transfer the money through your bank account, you’re promised a cut. But once you give them your bank account information, they quickly take money out instead of putting in any money.
Many of these sweepstakes, lottery and money transfer scams originate in other countries, and my office works with federal and international law enforcement to try to stop them. But the best way to stop these scammers is to get you not to respond to their pitches.
If someone tells you that you’ve won a sweepstakes:
- Be skeptical. If someone tells you that you’ve won a prize or contest you don’t remember entering, it’s probably a scam.
- Never give your personal information, such as your social security number or bank account number, to someone you don’t know who calls you on the phone or sends you an email or letter.
- Never agree to wire money in order to claim a prize.
- Don’t cash even legitimate looking checks that come with a letter telling you that you’ve won a sweepstakes or lottery.
To help cut down on the number of sweepstakes offers and solicitations you receive:
- Sign up for the Do Not Call Registry by calling (888) 382-1222, to cut down on telemarketing calls. Once you’ve signed up, you’ll know that any telemarketer who calls you could be a scammer.
- Don’t enter any sweepstakes or buy anything through a sweepstakes.
- If you get a sweepstakes mailing, write to the company and ask to be put on its do not contact list.
- Have your name taken off of mail marketing lists. Write to: Direct Marketing Association Mail Preference Service, PO Box 64, Carmel, NY 10512
- Use a spam filter to cut down on phony emails about sweepstakes and lotteries.
If you receive what looks likes a counterfeit check
or get a call or letter claiming that you’ve won a phony lottery, don’t respond. Instead, report the scam to the Attorney General’s Office by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free within North Carolina.
Attorney General Roy Cooper and his staff are on the lookout for scams that seek to rob unsuspecting North Carolinians. We are here to be of service when you need us, but through consumer education efforts like these columns we hope to help consumers avoid problems from the start.