Sweepstakes scam reaches Marengo

Published 5:51 pm Monday, September 15, 2008

You hear about these scams all the time. A sweepstakes company tells you that you have won a huge amount of money, and to claim your cash bonanza, you only have to send in your bank account number so the money can be directly deposited or send money to the sweepstakes company to cover the taxes on the cash waiting for you.

It seems like an apparent fraud until you receive the letter with the grand announcement, and it is you who have to ask yourself if it is a fake or if you can afford not to respond to get easy fast money.

William Boyd of Demopolis received such an announcement recently, although his fraud was easier to spot. Boyd’s letter did not come on official-looking letterhead. Across the top, it reads “From the desk of the priz (sic) director.”

Email newsletter signup

The letter claims to be from a man named Robert Johnson, who says he is the prize director of the International Lottery On-Claim (sic) Department. It tells Boyd that he was notified earlier that he had won $50,000 on June 20, and that he needed to claim his winnings.

The letter says that the winning draw was made in the company’s headquarters in Canada.

“If we did (sic) not hear from you within 3 weeks from the day this letter was sent,” it reads, “your file will be close (sic) and you will no longer be able to claim your winnings.”

The letter was accompanied by a check for $3,650. The letter states that through “Federal and International Law,” the prize winnings could not be released until the clearance fee — the amount the check was written for — was paid.

“I was afraid to deposit the check,” Boyd said, “ because I was afraid that if I wrote checks on that money, it would turn out that the check wasn’t any good, and I would be out that money. Also, if I sent them a check to cover those ‘clearance fees,’ they would have my account number and could do all kinds of things with that.”

Boyd also contacted the bank that was listed on the check, and was told that it was a valid account, but could not verify if it held that amount of money.

Boyd then contacted his local bank, which recommended that he contact the Demopolis Police Department and local media about this scam to warn others.

“My bank told me it was a scam,” he said.

Boyd tried to contact the police departments in the city listed on the check, but was told to contact local authorities.

He also went online to PhoneBusters.com, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Centre based in North Bay, Ontario. That site is full of information about scams — how they originate and if the scammers have been prosecuted.

A message left by The Demopolis Times at the New York state phone number provided in Boyd’s letter was not returned.

Many scams originate in e-mails, and have gotten more sophisticated over time. Often, they will be sent with a logo of the company (often a credit card company) claiming that a person’s account information needs to be upgraded.

“I’ve gotten two bank deficiency things in my e-mail this week,” said DPD Chief Tim Williams. “You just need to throw those things in the trash.

“A lot of times, there are things that will indicate if it is someone trying to scam you. Any time they ask you to send them money — even if they sent a check themselves — don’t do it. If you ‘won’ money from a sweepstakes that you did not enter, let it go. When you enter a sweepstakes, you usually have a ticket or a receipt from them. In this case, there is no Canadian lottery. I’d say that 99 percent of the time, these are all scams.”

Williams advised people who weren’t sure if an offer is real to call the police department. The DPD number for non-emergencies is 289-3073.

“We would be glad to help,” he said. “People shouldn’t fall for these things, but they do, and that’s sad, but it’s usually out of greed. People just need to realize that if something is too good to be true, it probably is.”

William Boyd took the proper precautions and not only avoided catastrophe, but helped others by warning them about it. Be wary about receiving good news from out of the blue. It may wind up putting you in the red.