Victim of sweepstakes scam? Let BBB know

Everyone is excited as lottery jackpots keep growing, millions of dollars more every week. Many of us spend a few dollars trying our luck. We all know the odds are terrible, but hey, somebody’s got to win, right?

BBB talks to consumers every day who have been notified that they are winners of sweepstakes and contests. Unfortunately, the calls are scams and the victims sometimes send thousands of dollars to “claim” prizes that never existed.

Here’s what you need to know about sweepstakes and contests:

1) You did not win the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes. Consumers often call BBB to report that PCH called them with the exciting news that they had won. Only one problem; the callers insisted that they send money in advance to pay taxes, legal and administrative fees. PCH constantly warns consumers that they do not call and do not ask for money (or personal information). Those calls are all scams.

2) You get a call from a retailer like Walmart or Target. Or the call is from Microsoft or the English Sweepstakes. They tell you that your number or address was selected at random as a winner of their multi-million-dollar contest. We have talked to victims who have sent thousands of dollars to claim their so-called prizes. Nonsense. Companies never run “secret” contests selecting winners at random. To win a contest, you must always enter them.

3) The caller tells you that you have won a big cash prize, but you must pay the taxes on the money first. This makes no sense. All legitimate contests withhold taxes from the prize money.

4) Most importantly, no legitimate sweepstakes requires a payment before they can “release” your money. They say, “If you don’t pay these fees, we must give your prize to someone else.” They may claim you must send the fees by wire, gift card or even bitcoin. The rule is simple; if they claim you must send fees or expenses to get the prize, the call, email or text message is a scam.

5) If you are a victim and have sent money to a sweepstakes scam, file a report immediately with the FBI at internet site IC3 (Internet Crime Complaint Center) and the Federal Trade at FTC.gov. If there is a possibility of recovering your money, they may be able to do it.

Dick Eppstein is president of the Better Business Bureau, serving Northwest Ohio and southeastern Michigan.