The Federal Trade Commission has issued an alert for consumers warning that sweepstakes scam artists may be impersonating government agencies in an effort to convince consumers that they have won a monetary “prize.” The alert says that scammers, claiming to be from the non-existent National Sweepstakes Bureau, the “national consumer protection agency,” and even the FTC, tell consumers that the supposed government agency is supervising the distribution of sweepstakes winnings. They also may give consumers a phone number at an actual government agency or use Internet technology to make it appear that they are calling from Washington, DC.
The agency warns that the scammers often convince consumers to wire money to a foreign country – using a commercial money transfer company like Western Union – to an agent of “Lloyd’s of London” or some other well-known insurance company to “insure delivery of the prize.” In fact, no insurance company is involved; con artists take the money and disappear.
The FTC, the U.S. government’s chief consumer protection agency, advises consumers:
- Do not pay to collect sweepstakes winnings. Legitimate sweepstakes do not require you to pay “insurance,” “taxes” or “shipping and handling charges” to collect your prize.
- Hold on to your money. Do not be pressured to wire money or send it by overnight delivery. Con artists recommend these services so they can get your money before you realize you have been cheated.
- Look-alikes are not the real thing. Disreputable companies sometimes use a variation of an official or nationally recognized name to try to confuse you. Insurance companies, including Lloyd’s, do not insure delivery of sweepstakes winnings.
- Phone numbers can deceive. New technology can make incoming calls look as if they are coming from Washington, DC, or your own community.
- File a complaint with the FTC. If you receive a call from someone claiming to be a representative of the government trying to arrange for you to collect supposed sweepstakes winnings, file a complaint at www.ftc.gov.
The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.