While the Federal Trade Commission is working to protect American consumers from scam artists, badvertisers, robocallers, and other unseemly types, the agency is not handing out $250,000 sweepstakes prizes.
Yet scammers claiming to be from the FTC are contacting consumers, telling them they have won some sort of big cash prize. To receive your winnings, you only need to pay taxes and insurance, in the form of a wire transfer for anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000.
It’s a classic scam. The twist here is that the scammers are attempting to use the name of the same people charged with bringing sweepstakes scammers down.
“The caller might suggest that the FTC is supervising the giveaway,” writes the agency — or at least we believe it was the agency. “He or she might even use the name of a real FTC employee. Your Caller ID might display the Federal Trade Commission’s name or a Washington, DC area code. Don’t be surprised if you receive repeated calls and follow-up faxes.
“No matter how convincing the impersonation, never send money to claim a prize. No FTC employee will ever call to ask you to send money. Legitimate sweepstakes companies won’t either.”
Here are the FTC’s tips for avoiding any sweepstakes scams:
Don’t pay to collect sweepstakes winnings. If you have to pay to collect your winnings, you haven’t won. 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 like Western Union because wiring money is the same as sending cash. If you discover you’ve been scammed, the money’s gone, and there’s very little chance of recovery. Don’t send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier, either. Con artists recommend these services so they can get your money before you realize you’ve been cheated.
Look-alikes aren’t the real thing. It’s illegal for any promoter to lie about an affiliation with — or an endorsement by — a government agency or any other well-known organization. Disreputable companies sometimes use a variation of an official or nationally recognized name to try to confuse you and give you confidence in their offers. Insurance companies, including Lloyd’s of London, do not insure delivery of sweepstakes winnings.
Phone numbers can deceive. Some con artists call using Internet technology that allows them to disguise their area code: although it may look like they’re calling from Washington, DC, or your local area, they could be calling from anywhere in the world.
File a complaint with the FTC. If you receive a call from someone who claims to be a representative of the government trying to arrange for you to collect supposed sweepstakes winnings, file a complaint at ftc.gov or call 1-877-FTC-HELP.
The FTC will get the most out of your complaint if you include the date and time of the call, the name or phone number of the organization that called you, the FTC “employee” name that was used, the prize amount, the amount of money requested, the payment method, and any other details.
One tip the FTC doesn’t offer about sussing out pretenders, but which we learned from years of watching bad TV — if someone you trust is suddenly sporting a goatee, it’s an impostor; possibly an evil twin and/or cyborg clone.