The North Bend Eagle


 

National scam starts to get local

by Katie Mattson
Published 8/28/13

Jane Coffman was immediately suspicious when she opened her mail on August 12. Included in the usual items was an official looking letter with an enclosed check stating that Coffman had won “2nd place in the USA Mega draw” sweepstakes, equaling a prize of $250,000.

“I knew something wasn’t right,” Coffman said. “I called the number as instructed, just to see what they’d say. I told the woman I wouldn’t be able to get to the bank anytime soon, and asked how long the check was good for. She said, ‘Um, uh, a year,’ which struck me as too long of a time.”

What Coffman, a Morse Bluff resident, had received was a typical national lottery scam letter. A lottery scam is a type of advance-fee fraud which starts with an unexpected e-mail notification, phone call, or mailing – usually including a large check – explaining that you have won a sizeable sum of money in a lottery. The recipient of the message is usually told to keep the notice secret, “due to a mix-up in some of the names and numbers,” or “to avoid double or false claims.” The target of the scam is asked to contact a “claims agent,” and after doing so the target will be asked to pay “processing fees” or “transfer charges” so that the winnings can be distributed.

The target will never receive any lottery payment. Many lottery scams use the names of legitimate lottery organizations or other legitimate corporations and companies, but this does not mean the legitimate organizations are in any way involved with the scams. In Coffman’s case, the company logo used was Aramark, a known and easily recognized business uniform supplier.

A quick bit of research showed that Global Processing Inc., the company that sent Coffman her letter, showed up on Ripoff Report, a web site dedicated to exposing scam artists, and on a sweepstakes fraud fact sheet web site, listed there as Global Processing Center. On the site, a man from New York had written to Ripoff Report detailing a letter from Global that matched Coffman’s exactly, all the way down to the “winning” lottery numbers.

Usually in a scam such as this one, a target will deposit the check sent to them, wire money or write a check for the “fees,” and then find out a few weeks later that the check they deposited had bounced. Even if the target is able to put a stop payment on the check they wrote, at the very least these scammers now have additional personal information on the target, such as where they bank, routing and account numbers, etc., which can be used by identity thieves.
Coffman went on to say that since she had received a letter like this, she wanted to make others in the community aware that this national fraud had come to the area, in the hope that no one else falls for the scam.

There are several ways to recognize a fake lottery e-mail. As legit lotteries often say in their advertisements, you can’t win if you don’t play. There are no such things as e-mail draws or any other lottery where no tickets were sold. This is simply another invention by the scammer to make the victim believe that they have won. The scammer will ask the victim to pay a fee before they can receive their prize. All real lotteries simply subtract any fee and tax from the prize. It does not matter what they say this fee is for courier charges, bank charges, various imaginary certificates– these are all made up by the scammer to get money out of their victim. As for scam lottery e-mails, they will nearly always come from free e-mail accounts such as Yahoo, Hotmail, Live, MSN, Gmail, etc.

When successful, scams like the one Coffman received can cost Americans thousands of dollars unless they know the warning signs and the tips to avoid being a victim.

The National Consumers League at www.nclnet.org, offers the following tips to aviod scams:

1. If someone gives you a check or money order and asks you to send money somewhere in return, it’s a scam. That is not how legitimate sweepstakes operators or other companies operate. If you have really won, you will pay taxes directly to the government. Legitimate mystery shopper or account manager jobs don’t involve using money transfer services to send money.

2. A familiar name doesn’t guarantee that it’s legitimate. Crooks often pretend to be from well-known companies to gain people’s trust. Find the company’s contact information independently, online or through directory assistance, and contact it yourself to verify the information.

3. The check or money order may be fake even if your bank or credit union lets you have the cash. You have the right to get the cash quickly, usually within 1-2 days, but your bank or credit union can’t tell if there is a problem with the check or money order until it has gone through the system to the person or company that supposedly issued it. That can take weeks. By the time the fraud is discovered, the crook has pocketed the cash.

4. When the check or money order bounces, you will have to pay the money back to your bank or credit union. You are responsible because you are in the best position to know if the person who gave it to you is trustworthy. If you don’t pay the money back, your account could be frozen or closed, and you could be sued.

5. Sending money using a money transfer service is like sending cash - once the crook picks it up you can’t get it back from the service. It’s not like a check that you can stop after you’ve given it to someone or a credit card charge that you can dispute. But if the money has not been picked up yet, you may be able to stop the transaction. Contact the money transfer service immediately if you think you’ve been scammed.

For more information go to www.consumerfed.org/fakecheckscams to read a “Don’t Become a Target” brochure, watch the funny videos about sweepstakes or lottery fake-check scams, and check out the other materials. Visit NCL’s www.fakechecks.org, to take a quiz to see how well you can spot this fraud, send an e-card to warn other people, and find information to help you and people you care about avoid losing money to fake check scams.

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