Ohio has been hit by a rash of sweepstakes scams, Attorney General Richard Cordray said today.
The fake contests are a common ploy used by con artists to swindle money or gain personal information. Since January, the Attorney General's Consumer Protection section has received approximately 900 complaints about sweepstakes or prizes, almost all of them scams.
"The number of sweepstakes scams reported in Ohio is on course to double this year," Cordray said. "Unfortunately, senior citizens are most vulnerable to these sophisticated deceptions. We are seeing tragic instances of trusting consumers, particularly seniors, falling into a trap where they wind up turning over not only their personal information but thousands of dollars. Our best defense against these scam artists is to increase awareness and community vigilance."
In Madison County, an elderly couple received a call informing them that they had won $495,000 and that to receive the award they first had to wire $750 to Las Vegas for insurance. After the couple wired more than $1,800 for the prize, their son became aware of the scam and contacted the Attorney General's office.
A Trumbull County woman received a check as an award for winning the "lottery." In order to collect the winnings, she was required to deposit the $4,800 check and wire $4,000 to Spain. The woman's daughter contacted the Attorney General's office after realizing the check was a fake.
"Many of the fake checks used in sweepstakes scams look very real," Cordray said. "If someone is enduring early stages of dementia or Alzheimer's, they likely could not detect this ploy. In fact the most outrageous aspect of most scams is that they prey on the trust that ordinary, decent people have in one another. I strongly urge family members, friends and neighbors to watch out for those who are most vulnerable to these malicious scammers."
The Attorney General's office has received 919 sweepstakes scam reports to-date in 2010; well past the 622 complaints received last year and double the 447 in 2008.
Cordray is providing the following tips to avoid sweepstakes scams:
• Do not send money to collect a sweepstakes or prize. If you have to pay to collect your winnings, then you did not actually win.
• Be extremely skeptical of anyone who asks you to send money to Canada, Jamaica or other foreign countries.
• Don't trust individuals who contact you unexpectedly and who ask you to wire transfer money, even for a contest or prize.
• Entries to foreign lotteries cannot be sold legally in Ohio. Anyone who informs you that you have won a foreign lottery is trying to defraud you.
• Beware of "recovery scams." Fraudulent telemarketers may contact victims posing as the police or other governmental representatives. They lie, often by saying they have recovered the victims' lost sweepstakes money and asking the victims to send more money to receive it.