Think you won a prize from a sweepstakes you never entered? Think again!

scam alert 150x150It’s one of the most common scams we hear about at Your BBB: Someone is told—by mail, phone or email—that they’ve won a big prize in a contest they never entered, but in order to collect the prize, they first have to pay some kind of tax or fee.

Many times the scammers claim to be with Publishers Clearing House or some type of official-sounding agency.

If this happens to you, beware. The only ones who stand to “win” anything are the scammers, if you fall for their tricks.

A consumer recently contacted us after receiving one of those calls. She’s been getting similar calls for a long time. This time, the caller claimed to be with the “International Claims Company” in Las Vegas. He said she had won a prize and wanted to send her a check for $250,000. But first, he wanted her to send $105 with a Green Dot card. The scammers claimed they would meet her at her bank to deliver the first $25,000 and a check for $250,000 would arrive in 24 hours.

The caller claimed the money would come from Publishers Clearing House. The Las Vegas address the caller gave turned out to be an apartment complex.

Fortunately, she didn’t fall for it. It might have been “just $105,” but paying $105 for nothing is still expensive. Not to mention, scammers sometimes come up with a second or third fee/tax until the victim gives up.

One of the phone numbers the scammers used to call her was disconnected. The other one went to a voice recording that sounded staticky and was likely outside the U.S. I left a number and asked, “Does your mother know what you do for a living?”

Not that scammers who make a living by ripping people off have much of a conscience for me to bother.

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.