Avoid common sweepstakes scam

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Arkansas consumers are once again the targets of a common scam in which con artists pose as representatives of a sweepstakes company and make false promises of free cars and cash.

Many consumers have contacted the Attorney General's Office recently to report that scammers had attempted to dupe them into sending a few hundred bucks to pay for taxes and "processing fees" related to prizes won in a sweepstakes. Though the gimmick may appear lucrative to consumers, the con artists have no intention of delivering on their promises.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued this consumer alert today to remind Arkansans not to fall victim to this and other types of sweepstakes scams.

"This type of scam hits consumers of our state quite frequently," McDaniel said. "Criminals are always trying to devise ways to separate consumers from their money, and our recommendation is always the same: Never wire money to a foreign country and always remember that something that sounds too good to be true almost always is."

In the most recent variation of the age-old sweepstakes scam, consumers receive unsolicited phone calls from a con artist who promises that someone from their company is on their way to present the consumer with "winnings," typically a new car, cash, or both. The only caveat, according to the scam artist, is that the consumer must wire money to claim the prizes. Usually, the call originates from a number with a Jamaican area code, and the consumer is told to wire the money to a location outside the United States.

Though the con artist tries to sound legitimate by promising that the winnings are on their way to the consumer's home, in actuality, the calls are most often generated randomly and the scammer has no idea of the consumer's location.

Legitimate sweepstakes or lottery winners are hardly ever notified through an unsolicited call, and even then, legitimate businesses would never require winners to wire money to receive a prize.

Wiring money is just like sending cash. Wired money, especially when it is sent to a foreign country, is almost impossible to get returned.

Consumers should ignore the bogus offer and instead call the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division to report the call and the number it originated from, McDaniel said. In addition, those consumers who receive threats or feel threatened by the scammer should contact local law enforcement.

The Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division offers resources related to scam prevention on its website, www.GotYourBackArkansas.org. The website is also a source for information about other consumer issues.

Consumers may also contact the Consumer Protection Division's hotline, (800) 482-8982.