If you can't trust the Better Business Bureau, whom can you trust?
The organization is warning about a new scam that is using its name in order to steal tens of thousands of dollars from victims who are led to believe they have won a lottery.
So far, scammers posing as BBB employees have fleeced one victim of $80,000 and several other consumers have reported that they were contacted over the phone or via e-mail by someone claiming they were with the organization.
According to the Better Business Bureau, these consumers were told that they had won a lottery and that, in order to receive the prize, they must first wire money back to the scammers. In some cases, the scammers used the names of real BBB employees --directing victims to legitimate bios and profiles on BBB's Web site -- in order to reinforce their ruse.
"Many people are struggling in the current economy and when someone tells you that you've won millions in a lottery, it can seem like an answer to prayer," said Steve Cox, President and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. "Every year, tens of thousands of people contact BBB about a suspicious lottery and instead of cashing in, many lose thousands of dollars they don't have."
BBB emphasizes that it does not run a lottery nor award prizes to consumers. Anyone who receives a call, letter or e-mail about winning the lottery should consult the following checklist in order to avoid falling victim to a lottery scam:
• Make sure the story checks out. Always confirm the facts directly with the organization the representative claims to be from -- whether it's BBB or any other organization. Use contact information that you found on your own from the organization's Web site; don't rely on phone numbers or Web links provided by the representative. Scammers often pretend to be from legitimate businesses or non-profits and a quick call directly to the organization can help set the record straight.
• Never pay money to get money. Lottery scammers make their money by convincing victims that they have to pay money up front -- to cover such costs as taxes or fees -- in order to receive their winnings. Because it is extremely difficult for the victim to track or retrieve money sent via wire transfer, scammers will often use this as their payment method of choice.
• Don't fall for the phony check. Scammers will often send a check in the mail to the victim with the instructions that in order to receive the full prize he or she must deposit the check and wire back a portion of the funds to cover fees or taxes. This gives the victim a false sense of security because the check will clear initially, but eventually be discovered as a fake. The money is then taken out of the victim's account and he or she is out the funds sent to the scammer.
The BBB lottery scam isn't the only one out there. Gregory of Columbia, SC tells ConsumerAffairs.com that he was contacted by a Paul Jones saying that he had won a $3.5 million dollar lottery. "I was informed by him to wire $1250 to an Alecia Edwards so I can collect my money. I sent the transaction and they said that they were at an airport near my location but nobody ever show to bring me any money." Gregory says the scammers are now telling him that he needs to send them another $2500 to complete the transaction. "They wont stop calling and they have the $1250 I sent them already," he concludes. "I tried to tell them to just send it back but they told me to get a lawyer if I want my money back."
Despite all the warnings, consumers continue to fall for these scams.