SEATTLE – The Washington state Attorney General’s Office is warning consumers to be on guard against a Canadian lottery or sweepstakes telemarketing scam that promises huge prizes in return for the advance payment of fees.
The warning comes after the Attorney General’s Tacoma Consumer Resource Center received four calls this week reporting the scam along. Similar reports have been made to Consumer Resource Centers elsewhere in the state in recent weeks.
In one of the Tacoma calls, a Gig Harbor stockbroker reported that one of her elderly clients was about to liquidate some of her investments to raise money to pay the fee.
In most cases, victims say they are called by someone who claims to be a government official – such as a "customs agent" -- who says he is holding a check for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars the victim has won in a Canadian lottery or sweepstakes. Before the money can be handed over, however, the victim needs to pay "customs charges" first.
According to reports from other states, once a payment is made, victims receive additional calls, each stating that additional money must be paid before the winnings can be turned over.
Callers in "boiler rooms" where these calls are made are often equipped with lists of people whose history of responding to telemarketing pitches or entering contests indicate they are vulnerable to sales pitches. The typical victims of these calls are usually senior citizens who live alone.
The Attorney General’s office offers these tips to help consumers avoid being victimized by this scam:
Never send money in response to this sort of solicitation. There is no reason to believe you have won money in a contest that you have not entered and you should not have to pay any fees to collect a legitimate prize.
Always verify the credentials of someone who claims to be a government official. If the person calling you is legitimate, his or her telephone number can be obtained from directory assistance. Ask them to put the information or request in writing and send it to you so you can check it out.
Avoid entering any unsolicited sweepstakes or lotteries, particularly those originating from Canada or another country. These "entries" are often used to target victims.
Don’t be fooled into believing that using Western Union to send money protects you. Funds sent via Western Union can be picked up at any office, not just the one to which you send your money.
Remember that you don’t have to buy anything or pay money to enter a sweepstakes and buying will never improve your chances of winning a sweepstakes.
Citizens can file complaints about this fraud scheme with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-551-4636.