The Office of the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit has received a number of complaints about sweepstakes scams targeting older consumers.
“We are urging consumers to get involved and speak with their friends and family about how to avoid this scam and others,” said Attorney General Chris Carr. “We have an obligation to protect our older, at-risk citizens, and a conversation about this scam is the best first-line-of defense. Just recently, our office created an Older Adult Consumer Protection Guide to help support Georgians in this effort. It is available for free download on our website.”
This is a recurring scam that is currently making the rounds in Georgia again. The con-artists contact their intended victims in a variety of ways, including calling on the phone, faxing, mailing, emailing or through pop-up boxes on websites. Victims are told they have won a big sweepstakes prize, but in order to claim their prize, they must send money via a Moneygram wire transfer to cover fees or taxes. The money is usually wired to another country.
Unfortunately, since there was no sweepstakes to begin with, consumers never receive their big prize. Worse yet, if the con artist finds a consumer who is particularly vulnerable to this scam, such as someone with dementia or cognitive impairment, he/she may contact them repeatedly and convince them to send additional payments. In fact, some scammers will even get a consumer to act as a “bridge” in the scam, wherein the consumer receives checks and money orders from other consumers and then wires the money to the scammers.
To make matters worse, once a consumer falls prey to a scam like this, their contact information may be sold to other scammers. So, a consumer could quickly become inundated with similar scam phone calls and mail solicitations.
We are offering the following tips to avoid sweepstakes scams:
- NEVER pay money to receive a prize. Not only is this a sure sign of a scam, it is a violation of Georgia law.
- Being asked to wire money – especially to a foreign country – is a big red flag. Scammers love to use wire transfer services, because it is very hard to trace who received the money or for the sender to recoup any money after it has been sent.
- Sometimes scammers will add credibility to the scam by sending a check for a few thousand dollars to cover the supposed taxes or fees owed. They’ll instruct the consumer to deposit the check and then wire the money to them. Don’t be fooled. The check is a fake. Despite popular belief, just because a check “clears” your bank, it does not mean the check is legitimate. Banks are required to make money available to consumers in a couple of days, but it can take weeks for a bank to discover that a check is counterfeit, by which time the scammers have disappeared with your money.
To report a sweepstakes scam, contact to the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit at consumer.ga.gov or (404) 651-8600. For additional resources and information for older adults, be sure to download The Georgia Consumer Protection Guide for Older Adults available free-of-charge at consumer.ga.gov.