Phony Check Scam Growing Threat to Consumers

2/12/2007

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CONTACT:
Tom Joyce
Better Business Bureau of Chicago
312-245-2643
tjoyce@chicago.bbb.org

CHICAGO, February 5, 2007 – Potential victims across the country are receiving notifications via mail that they are ‘lucky’ lottery winners. The solicitation and check offer is a scam whose only intent is to defraud the recipient rather than bring good financial news. The volume of these types of letters currently going around is substantial, so if you think that you have been singled out as a lucky winner in a drawing or a lottery that you don't ever recall entering, think again before responding.

If an unsolicited letter with a notification that you have won an award is received in the form of a final notification or you are a winner it will also urge your direct and immediate response. In many occasions the recipient will find a check included with your own name on it. Exercise caution as you are being targeted by a scammer.

According to Steve J. Bernas, President & CEO of the BBB of Chicago and Northern Illinois, “These types of scams that feature phony lottery and drawing winners are burgeoning and consumers need to be extremely vigilant if they are targeted. Do not under any circumstances send a check or wire transfer money to any individual or company that you don’t know. If the offer looks too good to be true it probably is.”

The Better Business Bureau has reported this fraudulent activity to several law enforcement authorities and is working closely with the Federal Trade Commission, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, The U.S. Postal Service and the City of Chicago Department of Consumer Services who are working in concert with us to help shut down these scams. Unfortunately, Bernas adds “it is extremely difficult if not impossible to recover consumer’s money once they have sent it to these scammers.”

Lottery Scam Prevention Tips:

  • If you get an alleged award notification letter, several things become evident. The text of the winnings will have a very generic-sounding name, such as USA Mega Direct or USA Lotto Direct, both of which sound like you could have potentially entered.

  • You will then be congratulated on being a winner of a large amount of money, given a reference number, and subsequently asked to not make your winnings public just yet. For convenience's sake, you will almost certainly be given a name of a contact or financial secretary who is to allegedly help guide you through your award claims process.

  • What is necessary to keep in mind is that anytime anyone asks you to pay for something that they claim you have won, a red flag should go up. If anyone asks you to wire a payment via Western Union to Canada, another red flag should go up. If you happen to receive a solicitation of being an awards or lotto winner and then are provided with a check to allegedly cover taxes or fees, turn it into your local Postal Inspector's Office.

  • Many of these so-called contacts have in common is that they have a Canadian phone number for you to call- frequently out of Ontario and British Columbia- regardless of where they claim to originate.

  • Included with the letter will almost always be a legitimate looking check, with an amount that can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars. The solicitation will tell you that this check is to help you offset the pay for insurance, taxes, and shipping and handling fees which you will need to pay before you can claim your prize, and will then direct you to call their financial advisor in order to find out how to claim the winnings.

  • Sometimes this check may even be addressed as coming from a well-known and/or Fortune 500 company with wide name recognition, which may put you in a fake comfort zone. This is in actuality an instance of identity theft of a business, which may likely not be aware that its name and identity are being fraudulently used in a check scam.

  • As soon as you call the number provided on your solicitation, you will be instructed to deposit the check into your personal bank account. Here is where the essence of the check scam lays: as real as it may look, the check will not have any funds to back it up. Shortly after taking out what you think are the funds from the check, you will be instructed to wire a certain amount of money, usually via Western Union or MoneyGram, to a previously undisclosed third party location.

  • The money that you will be wiring will be your own, provided that you have enough in your account to cover the amount being sent. If not, within a few days your bank will realize that the check you deposited was a fake one, as a result of which it will bounce and you will be held liable for any insufficient fund fees at the least.

  • Contact the BBB to report the scam at our website - www.chicago.bbb.org.
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