“If it ain't broke, don't fix it” might as well be the motto of traditional scammers who are sticking with tried and true schemes to defraud consumers.
While many fraudsters keep dreaming up technology-related cons, a few are going with what seems to work – the sweepstakes and government grant scams. Over the years these schemes have stolen millions from unsuspecting people.
With the sweepstakes scam, the victim receives a letter, email or phone call with great news! They have won a huge cash prize in a sweepstakes! Sometimes the victim is so excited they fail to realize that they haven't registered for any sweepstakes.
To receive the prize, of course, the victim has to pay a fee or tax – usually a few thousand dollars – in order to receive the huge cash prize. That, of course, is the scam.
Winners International Sweepstakes
John, of Ordway, Colo., is a little different from victims picked at random. He says he enters hundreds of sweepstakes each year. Last week he says he got a call from a “Mr. Miller,” who said he was from UPS, telling him there was a package from Winners International Sweepstakes containing $25,000.
“He wanted $499.00 for this $25,000.00,” John wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “It was less than an hour later he calls back telling me 'I've talked to my supervisor and he's agreed that if you send us $250.00 now we can hang on to your $250,000.00;" (yes from $25,000.00 to $250.000), prize until you get us the rest the first of next month.'"
John points out this supposed UPS representative couldn't give him a tracking number. Larry, of Corpus Cristi, Tex., also had a brush with someone who said they were from Winners International Sweepstakes. Larry, the caller said, had won $2.5 million plus a brand new Mercedes Benz.
“He then stated that I would need to go to the Walgreens or CVS and get a Green Dot card and get $1,500.00 and put on the card and call him back and give him the number off the card then I could receive the sweepstakes money and the delivery of my car to my house,” Larry writes. “He said the $1,500.00 was for a government approved stamp to be put on the check. He also said when they deliver the check and car they would escort me to the bank so I could safely make the deposit. He wanted to know how quick I could do that and why I couldn't do it now. I told him I could do it tomorrow morning.”
Fortunately Larry recognized it as a scam and didn't send the man any money. In the past scammers favored Western Union or other wire transactions to receive money, but that industry has recently adopted some scam safeguards. Scammers now favor prepaid money cards like Green Dot.
Another old school scam is the government grant scam. It is very similar to the sweepstakes scam. Valerie, of Baltimore, Md., was a recent target.
“On July 17 I received a phone call stating that at random my name was picked from U.S Federal Government grant services to receive $9,000.00 dollars because I did have a criminal record,” she wrote.
Valerie said the caller had a foreign accent, suggesting she might be calling off-shore. She hung up and reported the call to law enforcement.
Melissa, of Wilmington, N.C., said she also got a call from a young male claiming to work for the “Federal Grant Program” in Washington, DC. There is, of course, no such program.
“He claimed I was selected to receive $7000.00 dollars as a reward for being a good citizen and paying my bills on time!” Melissa wrote. “Anyway he gave me three choices of receiving the money. By electronic deposit to my bank account, my bank card, or Western Union! I knew it was a scam, I gave him no personal info, and he kept repeating himself.”
Googled phone number
Melissa Googled the Washington, DC telephone number the caller gave her and found many entries warning it was associated with a scam.
Erin, of Avon, Ind., also reports getting a call from the phony “Government Grant Department” in DC. Her caller ID told her the call originated from a cell phone in North Carolina.
“The man told me I qualified for a grant of $8,500 that I could use towards anything, except alcohol or drugs,” Erin wrote. “I would never have to pay it back. He needed my bank account information or a credit card to place the funds in my account in the next 40 minutes. I asked why he couldn't send me a check. He said that they used to send checks, but some of the people weren't receiving them and got angry so they don't mail checks anymore. He said I had been chosen because I have a clean criminal background (I got an OWI in 2006), never filed bankruptcy (I did in 2011) and some other reason.”
What both of these scams have in common is an “advance fee.” In other words, the victim is enticed to pay an advance fee in order to reap a greater reward.
Fortunately, none of our five readers fell for these old school scams. Unfortunately, thousands still do, which is why they are still around.