By Rob McDaniel
Last month, we reminded the public about the on-going efforts of criminals who prey upon vulnerable people to steal from them.
Lottery and Sweepstakes fraud is one method of theft and is the most common consumer fraud today.
The schemes are created by criminals who have scripted answers for any question posed to them.
Recently, residents of Apache Junction have been approached by individuals advising residents that they have won prizes through raffles and sweepstakes such as the Publisher’s Clearing House.They are promised large amounts of money and/or vehicles as long as they pay the taxes up front.
They require that action by the “winner” be taken immediately, or the prize will be given to someone else. They require the “taxes” or “fees” to be paid upfront, with your money. Payment must be sent to them via wire transfers, cashier’s checks, personal checks, money orders or through the use of gift cards and credit cards before the prize can be sent.
Unfortunately, the winners never receive the reported prize. Many of the victims are even told to keep their winnings a secret and not tell anyone about their prize to make it less likely the victim will consult with someone before sending the “taxes” or “fees.”.
Across the nation, this tactic seems to mostly target older individuals.Nearly 500,000 people have reported this fraud to law enforcement in the past three years. Money that was taken away from honest, hard working people.
The fraudulent schemes often use recognized business names and have language and wording to excite the targeted victim. The criminals may contact you by phone, mail or email.
No real lottery or sweepstakes will ever request money for taxes, fees or other purposes. Those who have been approached as winners of various lottery and/or sweepstakes should do some research on their own before pursing any potential winning.
Verify the company names, address and telephone numbers provided, and make sure they match those registered with governmental offices such as the Arizona Secretary of State.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) reports that the Federal Trade Commission, Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) and Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) received nearly 150,000 complaints about sweepstakes/lottery fraud in 2017.
Reported losses by victims totaled $115 million in 2017 alone. However, previous FTC studies have found less than 10 percent of fraud victims ever complain to BBB or law enforcement, meaning the actual level of fraud may be at least 10 times larger than these numbers reflect.
Recently, the Apache Junction Police Department (AJPD) became aware of one of these unreported scams through an attentive bank teller who recognized abnormal behavior from one of its customers and was able to be proactive in addressing this issue. This bank teller, by notifying AJPD, was able to help recover more than $3,000 in potential losses for their customer and prevented this customer from being further victimized.
If you think someone may be trying to deceive you, talk to a trusted family member or your local bank staff. If you believe you have been a victim of a sweepstake fraud, you can report the incident to your local police department and file a complaint with any of the following:
- Better Business Bureau
- The Federal Trade Commission at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-or call 877-FTC-Help
- The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at https://www.ic3.gov/complaint/default.aspx
- The U.S. Postal Inspection Service: 1-877-876-2455; https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov
- Senate Subcommittee on Aging Fraud Hotline: 1-855-303-9470; https://www.aging.senate.gov/press-releases/senate-aging-committee-launches-new-anti-fraud-hotline-enhanced-website-to-assist-seniors
- Western Union: 1-800-448-1492; https://www.westernunion.com/us/en/file-complaint.html
- MoneyGram: 1-800-926-9400; http://moneygram.nl/en/contact-us
- Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre: http://www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca/index-eng.htm Toll free from the US at 1-888-495-8501
- Victims who are seniors or other vulnerable adults may be able to obtain help through Adult Protective Services, www.elderjustice.gov.