In this scam, the con criminal makes you think you have won a great prize or sweepstakes. However, there is a catch: to claim your prize, you need to pay some fee or purchase some merchandise. There is no prize, and the criminal pockets the fee.
The Opening Pitch
Sweepstakes scams usually start with an over-sized envelope in the mail. It will have your name printed all over the material as being a potential (or an actual) winner. Such direct mail letters will often have the pictures of past winners describing how wonderful their lives are now that they are millionaires.
In another variation, a fraudulent telemarketer may call your home and tell you, in the most excited voice imaginable, that you have won a big prize. He or she may say something like this: “Congratulations, you are our big prize winner in our biggest prize giveaway ever.”
As you read further in these mailers, you realize they are selling merchandise of all kinds. The message is clear: the more merchandise you buy, the more likely your chances of winning. While the mailings do not directly say this, they definitely imply strongly that your chances of winning increase as you buy more merchandise.
In the telephone version, the criminal will tell you that in order to claim your prize, all you need to do is to send in a cashier’s check or your credit card number to cover a small fee associated with handling and delivery, postage, insurance, foreign taxes, or some other false reason.
Many, many consumers and especially older consumers have been hooked on these scams, often spending thousands of dollars on merchandise they did not really need but thought would improve their chances of winning. What hooks many people into habitually being duped with these scams is the dream of winning. They think, “Maybe this time I really did win.”
How to Avoid It
The key thing to remember about sweepstakes is the chances of you winning are about the same as being struck by a bolt of lightning. Buying merchandise from a company that uses sweepstakes as a promotion does not improve your chances of winning. Furthermore, it is illegal for any company to require you to make a purchase or spend money in order to play the sweepstakes they are running.