Prize Scam

A Security Scam by Sally Shabaker

You’ve just won $5,000! Or $5 million. Or maybe it’s a fabulous diamond ring, a car or luxury vacation? More likely, it’s a prize scam, and you’ll find the prize isn’t worth much — if you get a prize at all. Here’s one way to think about it: If you have to pay, it’s not a prize. Legitimate sweepstakes don’t make you pay a fee or buy something to enter or improve your chances of winning — that includes paying “taxes,” “shipping and handling charges,” or “processing fees” to get your prize. There’s also no reason to give someone your checking account number or credit card number in response to a sweepstakes promotion. Again, you may be told to wire money to an agent of “Lloyd’s of London” or another well-known company — often in a foreign country — to “insure” delivery of the prize. Wiring money is like sending cash; don’t do it. Once it’s gone, you can’t trace it or get it back. The same goes for sending a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier, or putting money on a prepaid debit card.

Another prize scam: You get a text message that says you’ve won a gift card or other free prize. When you go to the website and enter your personal information, you’ll also be asked to sign up for “trial offers” — offers that leave you with recurring monthly charges. Worse, the spammer could sell your information to identity thieves. When you see a spam text offering a gift, gift card, or free service, report it to your carrier, then delete it. Don’t reply or click on any links. Often, they install malware on your computer and take you to bogus sites that look real but are in business to steal your information.

This type of scam is also known as “The Sweetheart Scam” because it is usually a young and very sympathetic person who calls. Once money has been sent in your money, the caller then begins to build a relationship with the victim to get them to send in more money. “These people can be very, very convincing. Not even the victim’s own children can persuade them that they are being scammed, because the victim has come to view the caller as a friend. “Once the scammer believes they have made a connection with you, they will continue to call and are very persistent, even if you try to put a stop to it,” notes Marc. “One Hershey’s Mill resident has changed phone numbers three times to avoid receiving such calls. Once you fall for it, the scammers are encouraged and will keep on trying.”