No, you did not win that $1.25M sweepstakes you never entered

scam-alert-pic-150x150So you got something in the mail saying you won a million dollars in a sweepstakes you never entered. And they included a check for several thousand dollars to cover the upfront fees.

It’s your lucky day, right? Not so fast. This is a scam that could cost you and even get you into trouble with your bank.

Your BBB regularly receives reports from consumers who got suspicious letters or phone calls about “prizes” that require upfront payments. Some of the letters are very official-looking and include checks that look quite authentic.

One recent sweepstakes scam is especially tricky as it purports to be from Publishers Clearing House. Scammers commonly target Publishers Clearing House because people know the organization does give away prizes.

In this case, the consumer supposedly won $1.25 million from Publishers Clearing House. The letter included a phone number for a “claims agent” and a check for $6,852.49. The letter instructs the consumer to pay “an insurance and processing fee and tax.” The “sponsorship check” is supposed to help cover the expense.

The check is part of a wire fraud scheme that we see all the time at BBB. The consumer is asked to deposit the funds and wire all or part of the balance to someone else, usually overseas. When the check turns out to be bogus, the consumer has to pay the bank back for the full amount.

Another letter claims to be from a company based in Texas and tells the consumer he won $50,000. It has a phone number for a “claims agent” and a check for $$2,950. The consumer is told to use the check to cover a $2,000 fee.

Same song, different verse. Obviously part of a wire fraud scheme. Please don’t fall for something like this.

Publishers Clearing House has a blog post about how to recognize fake PCH award scams: Five Ways to Know If It’s a Publishers Clearing House Scam.

If you think you might have won a sweepstakes BBB offers the following advice:

  • Don’t expect to win a contest you never entered. You can only win a sweepstakes you enter. If you have entered a sweepstakes, keep track of who you’re entering with.
  • Don’t get tricked by “official-looking” material. Seals, official-sounding names and terms that imply affiliation with or endorsement by a government entity are commonly used by scammers to fool consumers into thinking they are legitimate.
  • A true sweepstakes will not make its winner pay fees. If you are asked to mail or wire money to pay fees or taxes, you’re looking at a scam. Legitimate prizes do not come with processing fees and taxes are paid directly to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) after winnings are collected.
  • Never agree to deposit a check and send a portion to someone else. This is a well-known scam. No matter how legitimate the check may appear to be, no matter what story or reasonable-sounding explanation you are given, you will get burned. A bank teller might accept the check, but when it turns out to be fake, you will have to reimburse the bank.