Watch out for tricky leprechauns this St. Patrick’s Day

March 15, 2013

Consumers frequently contact BBB regarding the authenticity of an email, letter or phone call announcing they’ve won a substantial sum of money.

As St. Patrick’s Day draws near, BBB reminds consumers to be cautious of claims they’ve won a pot of gold.

Scammers use major holidays, big events and disasters as an opportunity to target consumers and lure them into scams. Sweepstakes scams are so popular because they play on consumer’s emotions and dreams of financial freedom.

Red flags to watch for when receiving a winning offer over the phone, through email or in the mail:
• It asks for detailed personal information.
• You don’t remember entering a contest.
• You are 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 you are dealing with.
• The lottery application or announcement comes via telephone or mail from outside the country.

To help consumers identify a sweepstakes scam, BBB offers the following advice:
• Check out the business. Go to to check out details about the company making the offer, and see if there are any complaints filed against the business.
• Don't pay to collect winnings. According to the Deceptive Mail Prevention and Enforcement Act, if you have won something, you should not have to pay a penny or purchase anything to receive it.
• Verify that the check is legitimate. Call the financial institution directly to verify that the check will draw from an actual account. Do not use the money until the funds have been collected by your financial institution. It is a red flag if the company name on the check does not match the name of the business writing the letter.
• Did you receive this notification via bulk rate mail? According to the Federal Trade Commission, it is highly unlikely that you’ve won a big prize if your notification was mailed by bulk rate.
• Be cautious of look-alikes. Scammers often use names of government agencies and well-known organizations to try to confuse you and give you the confidence in the winning claim.