The e-mail sure looks official. It is from the UK Grand National Lottery (UKGNL) Headquarters, includes a detailed Ref. No. and a Batch No., and states that it is the FINAL NOTIFICATION TO CLAIM YOUR PRIZE MONEY OF ONE MILLION DOLLARS! Even more exciting, it notifies you that your prize money is available for collection and has been deposited with a financial security firm. All you need do is (1) "keep this award from the public until your claim have (sic) been processed and your money remitted to you" and (2) e-mail your claims agent, MR. LEE JONES at UKGNL for processing and remittance of your prize money.
So far, so good, right? Wrong! Those consumers who do e-mail their claims agent receive a request to forward $530 to open up an online bank account with the financial security firm to use to "transfer their winnings." Eventually, the claims agent also requests private information, including the winner’s social security number, bank account and credit card information to “use for credit checks” and other personal financial details.
This is just the latest among scams that target people who permit themselves to be swept away by dreams of free money. Some offers arrive via computer; others enter the home through direct mail or the telephone. In addition to phony sweepstakes announcements, Better Business Bureaus report that consumers are receiving
- suspicious foreign lottery solicitations (from Australia, Canada, Spain and other countries) advising winners to send money orders for hundreds of dollars;
- notifications of cash awards from international security firms or disbursement offices that demand payment up-front to cover entry, judging or postage fees; and
- phone calls from people claiming to be representatives of reputable retailers, who want to "reward" loyal customers with special gift certifications or cash cards, after payment of a delivery fee.
Everyone loves to be a winner, but the BBB cautions consumers not to allow enticing dollar signs to obstruct common sense. If you receive a phone call, letter, or e-mail announcing that you have won a sweepstakes, a lottery or prize award, remember these tips:
- Are you being directed to wire money, provide access to your bank account or credit card numbers, or forward any personal financial information in order to claim your sweepstakes or lottery winnings? This is an attempt to steal your money or identity, by a person masquerading as a sweepstakes or lottery official!
- Legitimate sweepstakes companies do not require you to pay taxes, customs fees, shipping or handling, or any other fee before awarding your winnings. And, they are prohibited by U.S. law from requiring that you buy something to enter a sweepstakes contest or to receive sweepstakes mailings.
- Did you ever actually enter the company’s sweepstakes? Chances are, you did not!
- Read the fine print on any sweepstakes offer or entry form that you receive in the mail. Usually is says something to the effect that you win, IF your number is selected or IF your number is one of the winning numbers. You have not yet won anything!
- Do not be deceived by seals, official-sounding names, or terms that imply affiliation with or endorsement by a government entity, here or abroad. It is illegal for a promoter to misrepresent an affiliation with a government organization or other well-known organization.
- If you have truly won a prize, whether it is a cash card, gift certificate or product, there should be no redemption fees, postage fees, delivery fees, or other conditional rules to comply with in order to receive your prize.
- Responding to just one foreign lottery ticket or one fraudulent sweepstakes notice or one prize award solicitation can open the door to many more bogus offers. Ignore all such offers!