The Better Business Bureau (BBB) in Michigan has received consumer inquiries regarding a sweepstakes scam that is falsely using the BBB name. Consumers are receiving phone calls indicating they have won a lump sum amount of $3,500,000.00 U.S. dollars. But before funds are made available, the scammers require their victims to wire $25,000.00 U.S. dollars to cover insurance costs.
Consumers report that they were skeptical and asked for some sort of proof that they indeed have won the money. Their requests are answered with a faxed letter that appears to be from Bank of America and references the Better Business Bureau and the City of Las Vegas, Nevada. Included with the letter is a copy of a cashier’s check made out to the victim and appears to be drawn from Bank of America.
The letter states, “This is to certify that Better Business Bureau is being a customer with U.S. Bank. We <Bank of America> satisfactorily maintained an account with the current balance of $3,500,000.00 US DOLLARS, with a pending balance of $25,000.00 US Dollar for insurance before the funds is made available to (the victim’s name) attention through Bank of America.”
The letter goes on to say, “This letter has been issued for the purpose to show proof that we withhold the above sum of money mentioned.”
In an attempt to come off as legitimate, the letter copies and pastes logos for Bank of America, Better Business Bureau, and the City of Las Vegas, Nevada throughout and displays inaccurate return addresses for Bank of America, as well as the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
Bank of America, the City of Las Vegas, Nevada and the Better Business Bureau have absolutely no affiliation with this fraudulent operation and advise consumers to be extremely leery of letters, faxes, emails or phone calls telling them they’ve won prizes, lotteries or sweepstakes. If you get a call telling you that you are a winner, look for these red flags:
- Remember lottery tickets must be purchased. Sweepstakes usually involve application paperwork that you have completed. Government grants have a thorough application process as well.
- Don’t pay any money to collect supposed 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 from the caller to send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier. Con artists recommend these services so they can get their hands on your money before you realize you’ve been cheated.
- Remember that phone numbers can deceive. Internet technology allows con artists to disguise their area code so it looks like they’re calling from your local area. But they could be calling from anywhere in the world.
- The name on the check does not match the name of the company or person the consumer is dealing with.
- A lottery application or win announcement comes via telephone or mail from outside the country.
- The letter, fax or email is full of grammatical and spelling errors.
- The caller is pressuring for personal information.
While telemarketing is still a popular option for many businesses, there is a difference between lawful communication and telemarketing fraud. Criminals will pose as telemarketers in order to get your personal information or steal your money. Because it can be difficult to distinguish between the legitimate and the fraudulent, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides the following tips to help recognize and report phone fraud:
- Ask who is calling and why? – Telemarketers must provide this information. If they don’t, say “no thanks” and hang up the phone.
- What is their hurry? – Fast talkers who use high pressure tactics could be hiding something. Take your time. Most legitimate businesses will give you time and written information about an offer before asking you to commit.
- Why are they asking you to pay to win? –Question charges you need to pay to redeem a prize or gift. If you have to pay, it is a purchase and not a prize or gift.
- Why am I “confirming” my account information or giving it out at all? – Some callers have your billing information before they call you. They are trying to get you to say “okay” so they claim you approve a charge. Scammers use this technique to get your personal and financial information.
- What time is it? – The law allows telemarketers to only call between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.
- Register your phone number. – You can register your phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 1-888-382-1222.
- Do I want more calls like this one? – If you don’t want a business to call you again, say so. If they call you back, they’re breaking the law.
To report phone fraud, visit www.ftc.gov or call 1-877-FTC-HELP. To report violations of the National Do Not Call Registry, visit www.donotcall.gov or call 1-888-382-1222.
For more information or to report suspicious solicitations, go to www.bbb.org.