Sweepstakes and Lotteries

Congratulations, it's your lucky day! You've just won $5,000!

If you get a phone call or a letter with a message like this, be skeptical. Scam artists often use the promise of a valuable prize or award to entice consumers to send money, buy overpriced products or services, or contribute to bogus charities. People who fall for these ploys may end up paying more and more for the products — if they ever get them at all.

Advance Fee Fraud

  • Beware of unscrupulous scammers who are targeting senior citizens by telephone, telling them that they have won the lottery, but need to provide money for the taxes and registration fees before they can receive their winnings.
  • The scammers are usually located in another country, using cell phones which are disposed of after they collect the money or financial information from their victim. If you are a senior or a conservator for a senior, keep this alert by your phone as a reminder to protect yourself and your loved ones from these con artists.
  • Hang up on callers who inform you that you have just won money. Legitimate winners are never notified by phone and never have to pay any fees in advance in order to receive their winnings.
  • Even though the caller sounds friendly and polite, remember that con artists have only one motive...and that is to separate you from your money.
  • Do not give any personal information (social security number, credit card or bank account number) to anyone who calls you, or contacts you by email.
  • Taxes on winnings are never paid in advance. Taxes are deducted from the payout before handing you the check.
  • Keep a record of any call, fax, email or mail that request money up front. It is a good idea to retain caller ID so that you have an electronic record of these calls to provide to a law enforcement agency.
  • The police have advised that they are unable to assist victims of this type of scam since the scammers are outside the jurisdiction of the United States. However, if you need advice or have information such as a name, address and phone number of the scammer, you may file it online with IC3 or with Fairfax County’s Consumer Affairs Branch.

How to avoid prize and sweepstakes fraud

The next time you get a "personal" telephone call or letter telling you "it's your lucky day," remember:

  • Don't pay to collect sweepstakes winnings. If you have to pay to collect your winnings, you're not winning — you're buying. Legitimate sweepstakes don't require you to pay "insurance," "taxes", or "shipping and handling charges" to collect your prize.
  • Hold on to your money. Scammers pressure people to wire money through commercial money transfer companies because wiring money is the same as sending cash. When the money's gone, there's very little chance of recovery. Likewise, resist any push to send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier. Con artists recommend these services so they can get to your money before you realize you've been cheated.
  • Phone numbers can deceive. Some con artists use Internet technology to call you. It allows them to disguise their area code: although it may look like they're calling from your local area, they could be calling from anywhere in the world.

How to recognize a reloader

  • Their offer requires a "recovery fee." Legitimate organizations, like national, state, and local consumer enforcement agencies and non-profit organizations, do not charge or guarantee results for their services to help you get your money back from telemarketing fraud.
  • Their offer requires you to wire money or send it by a courier.
  • They contact you several times to urge you to buy more merchandise to increase your chances of winning so-called valuable prizes.

Fake Check Scams

It's your lucky day! You just won a foreign lottery! The caller says so. And they are sending a cashier's check to cover the taxes and fees. All you have to do to get your winnings is deposit the check and wire the money to the sender to pay the taxes and fees. You're guaranteed that when they get your payment, you'll get your prize.

There's just one catch: this is a scam. The check is no good, even though it appears to be a legitimate cashier's check. The lottery angle is a trick to get you to wire money to someone you don't know. If you were to deposit the check and wire the money, your bank would soon learn that the check was a fake, and you would be out the money.  The money you wired can't be recovered, and you're responsible for the checks you deposit - even though you don't know they're fake.

International Lottery Scams

“Congratulations! You may receive a certified check for up to $400,000 U.S. CASH! Tax free! Your odds to WIN are 1-6.” “Hundreds of U.S. citizens win every week using our secret system! You can win as much as you want!”

Sound great? It's a fraud.

Scam operators — often based in Canada — are using the telephone to entice U.S. consumers to buy chances in high-stakes foreign lotteries from as far away as Australia and Europe. These lottery solicitations violate U.S. law, which prohibits the cross-border sale or purchase of lottery tickets by phone or mail.

The FTC has these words of caution for consumers who are thinking about responding to a foreign lottery:

  • If you play a foreign lottery —on the telephone or through the mail — you're violating federal law.
  • There are no secret systems for winning foreign lotteries. Your chances of winning more than the cost of your tickets are slim to none.
  • If you purchase one foreign lottery ticket, expect many more bogus offers for lottery or investment “opportunities.” Your name will be placed on “sucker lists” that fraudulent telemarketers buy and sell.
  • Keep your credit card and bank account numbers to yourself. Scam artists often ask for them during an unsolicited sales pitch.
  • The bottom line: Ignore all phone solicitations for foreign lottery promotions. If you receive what looks like lottery material in the mail from a foreign country, give it to your local postmaster.

NEED ADVICE? Contact Us!
Office: 703-222-8435 (8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday)
Fax: 703-653-1310
Email: consumer@fairfaxcounty.gov

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