NY1 For You: Manhattan Woman's Story Illustrates Rise In Sweepstakes Scams
If you receive an unsolicited check in the mail for thousands of dollars, remember the old adage: if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. NY1's Susan Jhun filed the following report.
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When Sylvia Harris received a check for more than $3,000, she wanted to believe it was real.
The check was an official-looking Bank of America check, accompanied by a letter stating Harris had won a sweepstakes from major retailers.
"They were sending me $3,800 and change as part of the prize that I deposit the check and have to pay nineteen hundred and change as taxes," she said.
The letter and check, though, were part of a simple scam. The recipient deposits their "prize money," a fake cashier's check, into their bank account. They then wire their own money to pay the taxes supposedly to the company, which is, of course, the scam artist.
Several weeks later, the bank discovers the check is a fake and the recipient is out the money they wired.
Sweepstakes scams certainly aren't new but they are on the rise, according to the Federal Trade Commission. And after victims fall prey to them, they generally have no recourse.
"Once the check is discovered to be a fake, it doesn't matter," said William Efron, the regional director of the Federal Trade Commission. "You're responsible for the money you withdrew from your own bank account."
In Harris' case, she was shrewd enough to do some research and discovered the scam before falling prey to it. She now wants to warn others.
To avoid these types of scams, the FTC recommends keeping an eye out for red flags.
"Legitimate sweepstakes offerings do not ask you to pay money to collect your sweepstakes prize," Efron said.
Also, watch for sweepstakes rewards that are mailed by bulk rate. They're a good indication the sweepstakes is not for real. Bonafide offers clearly disclose terms and conditions and list an address and phone number to contact the company.