Betty Weiderspon of Greeley is not the gambling type. She doesn’t visit casinos, she doesn’t buy lottery tickets, she doesn’t even like bingo. OK, there was one uncharacteristic moment earlier this year when she entered the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes.
“I don’t know what motivated me to do that,” said the retired elementary teacher. “That’s so unlike me!”
Using her 20-20 vision, she now thinks it may have triggered events that soon followed.
“I started getting phone calls informing me that I had won $250,000. Then I got a letter that said they were trying to get a hold of me, which I knew, and that I had won some sort of lottery. That was the first red flag. I don’t play the lottery.”
The letter didn’t provide information on how she was to have won the quarter of a million dollars, so she tore it up.
Several weeks later she received another letter. It had a Canadian postmark but used the name and address of a legitimate business in the United States. The letter instructed her to make a phone call to learn how to receive her prize.
Weiderspon did make a call — to the Greeley Police Department. Although the business named in the letter checked out as legitimate, the Canadian postmark was a red flag. It’s illegal for Americans to win foreign lotteries unless they purchased the ticket themselves in that country.
The police officer suggested that Weiderspon turn the letter over to the Better Business Bureau, which monitors consumer scams and routinely provides scam tips and alerts.
So that you don’t fall prey to lottery scams, keep the following BBB checklist handy:
• Was the lottery notification delivered by mail or e-mail? If you receive a winning lottery notification by regular mail or e-mail, there is a good chance it is fraudulent. Legitimate lottery companies usually send winning notices by certified mail, Federal Express, UPS or DHL delivery services. On the other hand, if you have played the lottery online, you may be notified by e-mail. However, you still must log into your account to check your winnings and choose whether you want to be paid by check or by a credit to your credit card.
• Does the notification come from another country? Organizations behind these frauds operate under different names, often derived from well-known lotteries in other countries. U.S. citizens should know that it is illegal to participate in a foreign lottery by using U.S. mail services.
• Were you sent a check or money order with your notification? Fraudulent promoters sometimes send a check or money order to convince you they are real. While the checks and money orders may look official, they are counterfeit!
• Are you asked to wire transfer money or mail a personal check to cover some type of fee or taxes? Scam artists will ask you to deposit the check or money order and then instruct you to wire money or send a personal check back to them to cover what may seem like legitimate fees, such as processing, administrative, handling or tax fees. They also may instruct you to call a number to claim your winnings. When you do, they will try to get you to send money or ask for personal identification information that will undoubtedly be used for identity theft purposes. If you deposit a bogus check or money order in your bank account, keep in mind that you will be held responsible for any money you spend or send to anyone else.
• Does the lottery promoter’s name and address on the check match the name and address on the envelope? In many instances it does not. The company name is usually different on the check, the bank name on the check is fraudulent and the account number stolen – making the check a counterfeit. Sponsors of legitimate lotteries and sweepstakes identify themselves prominently on their checks and on the envelopes.
• Are the notifications sent by people claiming to be bankers, gaming officials, claims agents, tax collectors, attorneys or a high-ranking government official? Scam artists will use any number of titles in an effort to convince you that they are legitimate.
Foreign lottery scams steal millions of dollars from unsuspecting people every year. If you receive any form of notification that you are a prize winner in a foreign lottery or sweepstakes, do what Betty Weiderspon did and contact the BBB wynco.bbb.org and check it out before you become the next victim.
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