Publicity over an upcoming Publishers Clearing House (PCH) drawing on August 29th seems to have created an increase in illicit activity on the part of scammers. Better Business Bureau of North Alabama (BBB) warns consumers to be on the lookout for calls from someone claiming that you have been selected as a winner of their lottery, and then requiring you to send payment in order to receive your prizes.
Recently residents have reported to BBB that they have been contacted by someone alleging to represent PCH who congratulates them on winning a large amount of money – as much as $2 million, and in some cases a car as well. The winner must first pay a fee or taxes before the prizes can be delivered. Most callers will instruct the consumer to go to a local discount department store or pharmacy and load money on to a Green Dot Money Pak, which will cover prize fees or taxes. While the scenario can vary, in each case consumers receiving the calls are told they must spend money in order to get their winnings.
The Green Dot Money Pak is not only a quick, convenient way to make a payment, it is also almost impossible to trace once money has been transferred. In fact, all that is needed to download funds is the card’s code that appears on the back of the card and possibly on the receipt. Green Dot Money Paks are not bank accounts, so they do not provide the same coverage against fraud as a credit or debit card.
Often calls originate from an 876 area code, which is the area code for Kingston, Jamaica. In other cases, the callers mask their real number by spoofing caller ID with a number that is not a currently working number. This makes it much more difficult for law enforcement to track down the source of calls.
Your BBB has learned from Publishers Clearing House (PCH) that they do not call anyone to notify them that they’ve won money. Instead, if you've won less than $600.00 a check is mailed. If you've won between $601 and $10,000.00, an affidavit is mailed, which must be completed and returned. After the information has been verified a check is sent by mail to the winner. If you've won more than $10,000.00 the prize patrol delivers the money in person. You can reach the PCH fraud hot line at 800-392-4190 if you receive a suspicious call from anyone purporting to be with their company.
BBB has also received copies of mailings sent to local residents from someone purporting to be with Publisher’s Clearing House, Reader’s Digest, or other popular sweepstakes. These letters typically come with a check that is made payable to the recipient for thousands of dollars. Recipients are asked to cash the checks and wire at least part of the funds back to the senders. Unfortunately these checks always prove to be counterfeit and people sending over money for fees eventually learn that they have received nothing in return.
To help consumers identify a lottery scam, your BBB provides the following tips. Before responding you should ask yourself:
· How was the lottery notification delivered? If you receive notification by regular mail or email, there is a good chance it is fraudulent. Legitimate lotteries usually send winning notices by certified mail, Federal Express, UPS or DHL. On the other hand, if you play the lottery online, you may be notified by email. However, you still must log in to your account to see if you have won anything and if so, notify them which payment option you prefer – check or as a credit to your credit card account.
· Does the notification appear to come from another country? U.S. citizens should know that it is illegal to participate in a foreign lottery by using U.S. mail services.
· Are you asked to wire transfer money or mail a personal check to cover some type of fee or taxes? Fraudulent promoters 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. If you deposit a bogus check or money order in your account, you will be held responsible for any money you spend or send to anyone else once your financial institution confirms that the check or money order is counterfeit.
· 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 phony and the account number stolen –making the check a counterfeit. Sponsors of legitimate lotteries and sweepstakes identify themselves prominently on checks and envelopes. · Do they claim to be with Readers Digest, Publishers Clearing House, or any other well-known sweepstakes companies? Many individuals have reported being contacted by someone claiming to be with a well-known sweepstakes company, but if that person asks you to pay any money in order to receive your winnings, you may consider that to be your red flag that you’re being contacted by an imposter.