Better Business Bureau warns of Jamaican sweepstakes scams
NEWS RELEASE — Burnsville, MN – It happens in our area countless times every single day: the phone rings and unsuspecting people “pick up” and are told they’ve won a sweepstakes prize.
Though these phone calls are all fraudulent in nature, a quick way to identify calls like this is to look at your caller ID. Is the caller’s prefix 876? If so, the call originated from Jamaica, a hotbed for sweepstakes scams.
The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota is urging people to be aware of this type of scam and to warn friends and loved ones about it.
“These sweepstakes calls sound wonderful and it would be nice if even one of them was legitimate,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “However, they’re not. Many of these calls come from boiler rooms in Jamaica, and anyone playing along with them guarantees the only real winners will be the scammers.”
Though the 876 area code might look “local,” it’s actually the telephone prefix assigned to Jamaica. In recent years there have been many news reports about fraudulent cold-calling operations operating out of that country and targeting U.S. consumers. According to AARP, approximately 30,000 calls are made from Jamaica into the U.S. every day attempting to defraud American citizens.
Beyond claiming potential victims have won a cash prize, foreign scammers also drop references to luxury sports cars to sweeten the package. They will also falsely claim affiliations with established companies or government agencies, including the FTC, Publishers Clearing House and the BBB. However, like the “prizes,” these affiliations are non-existent and used only to try to bolster the bogus callers’ credibility. In some cases, these Jamaican scammers have even resorted to threats of physical harm in an attempt to get victims to make on the spot payments.
To avoid falling victim to sweepstakes scams, the BBB provides the following advice:
• Screen your calls. If you see a call from an 876 area code, it’s very likely a scammer on the other end of the line.
• Stay realistic. You can’t win a contest you didn’t enter, and if you’re told you have to pay anything to collect your winnings, you haven’t won anything.
• Remember, you’re in charge. If you don’t like the way a call is going, simply hang up. If the calls keep coming, report them to the proper authorities, such as the Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov), as well as the Better Business Bureau.
• Don’t be bullied. Though it’s important to ensure your own safety, keep in mind the majority of these calls are made from outside the country. If calls you receive become threatening in nature, report them to your local authorities immediately.
• Never wire money. Sweepstakes scams usually come with a request to wire funds for supposed fees such as insurance or taxes – don’t play along. Some scammers are now asking people to purchase Green Dot MoneyPaks and then share the number on the back. By doing this, you’re giving criminals all the information they need to drain the funds loaded onto these MoneyPaks.
Other lottery solicitations are sent through the mail or via email. To further help consumers identify a lottery or sweepstakes scam, the BBB provides the following checklist:
• Was the lottery notification delivered to you by mail or email? If so, it’s likely fraudulent.
• Were you sent a check or money order with your notification? Fraudulent promoters will usually send a check or money order along with notification to convince you they are real. While the checks and money orders may look official, they are counterfeit!
• Are you asked to wire money to cover some type of fee or taxes? Fraudulent promoters will ask you to deposit their check or money order and then instruct you to wire money back to them to cover what they claim are administrative fees, insurance or taxes on your “winnings.” They also may instruct you to call a number to learn more about your prize. If so, they will likely seek personal information that will undoubtedly be used for identity theft purposes. If you deposit a bogus check or money order in your bank account, keep in mind that you will be held responsible for any money you spend against those non-existent funds.
• Does the notification appear to come from another country? Organizations behind these frauds operate under different names, often derived from well-known lotteries in other countries. It is illegal for U.S. citizens to participate in foreign lotteries over the phone or through the mail.
• Are the notifications sent by people claiming to be bankers, gaming officials, claims agents, tax collectors, attorneys, or affiliated with agencies like the FTC or BBB? Scam artists will use any number of titles – or claim bogus affiliations – in an effort to convince you that they are legitimate. Don’t be fooled.
Anytime you receive a strange notification or are told you’ve won a prize, contact the BBB (http://www.bbb.org or 800-646-6222) to avoid becoming the next victim in this type of scheme.
The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public.
The BBB is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the BBB at http://www.bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.