West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey warns consumers to be on guard when notified of winning a sweepstakes, especially those associated with the name of a legitimate company or government agency.
The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division continues to receive reports from West Virginians victimized by these scams. Scammers have been known to use familiar names to lure consumers into a false sense of trust and unquestioned acceptance which leads them to give the scammers money to claim the supposed prize.
One victim from Upshur County lost nearly $18,000. The consumer sent money via a gift card, money order, MoneyGram and Western Union.
“Consumers can fall prey to sweepstakes scams as the ploy can appear very attractive — who doesn’t want to win money?” Morrisey said. “However, it is important consumers verify the legitimacy of any win. Also, look for warning signs such as unusual word choices or improper grammar if you receive a letter from the supposed sweepstakes.
“Most importantly, never give money to a scammer or allow them to access your credit card or computer.”
Targeted consumers are told they have won a lottery or sweepstakes, but they must pay the taxes or fees upfront in order to collect the prize. Those who send money lose it, as the impostor disappears and the winnings never arrive.
While there are contests that do award prizes, consumers must carefully verify the legitimacy of any win.
For instance, Publishers Clearing House, state lotteries and government agencies never require winners to pay money to receive their prize. That means potential winners should never agree to send cash, wire money or provide numbers associated with a gift card, credit/debit card or bank account.
Furthermore, Publishers Clearing House does not notify winners by phone, but instead by in-person visit or certified mail.
Winning a sweepstakes the consumer didn’t enter, being asked to pay upfront fees or taxes and being pressured to act immediately should all be red flags, Morrisey said.
Consumers with questions or think they may have been the victim of a sweepstakes scam can contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 800-368-8808 or visit the office online at www.ago.wv.gov.