Tag Archives: Scam

ANATOMY OF A SCAM LETTER

scam bulldog

Just this past week I received a tricky scam letter telling me “CONGRATULATIONS” because I had won the Sol Pacifico Cerritos “Great Giveaway” Contest.

I looked at all aspects of the notification letter to conclude that this was a scam.  Here are some of the things to look for.

  • Does the sender’s e-mail address (or name) exist at the company it claims to be from? Either a Google search or visiting the company’s website and doing a search should yield an answer. In the case of my letter, while the company existed, the name of the person it was sent from did not.
  • Check the date of the e-mail against the date the contest ended. If the contest ended quite a bit in the past and you are just getting notified, it should be a red flag.  While it is possible to receive notification months after a sweepstakes ends, it is just one of several things to consider together with other clues.  Checking the rules for the contest end date and drawing date will help decipher the answer.
  • Does the letter address you personally? Usually you must provide your basic information, including your name, to enter a sweepstakes. If the letter merely refers to you as “winner” then that is a red flag.  But again, this should be taken with all other clues.  Today I received a win notice that referred to me as “winner” but turned out to be legitimate.
  • Does the contest exist and did you enter it? Search for the name of the contest online. If you cannot find it referenced anywhere, it probably does not exist.  Also, if you did not enter the contest, whether it exists online or not, then you did not win it. In the case of my letter, I could not find that any such contest existed.
  • Does it cost money to claim your prize? On my letter, the prize description was for Free Roundtrip Airfare Tickets from certain airports.  However, upon closer examination, the redemption instructions included having to buy a 5-night minimum stay at their resort.  IMPORTANT: You never need to buy anything to claim a legitimate sweepstakes prize.
  • If the letter has an option that says, “Click here to leave mailing list,” that is a sure sign that it is not a personal letter, but rather a pitch that has gone out to an entire mailing list.
  • Are there links? Please do not click any links in the e-mail until you have verified that your win is legitimate.  These could be used by scammers to verify your personal information.
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Don’t Fall Victim to Scams!

You may have seen news articles about someone who fell victim to a sweepstakes scam.  Perhaps they lost money or their identity was stolen as a result.  How do you know when you’re being scammed?  How can you stay safe?

Most scams are e-mails, letters, or phone calls claiming that you have won a prize and requesting personal information or money in order to claim your prize.  It’s important to remember that a legitimate sweepstakes will never ask for your bank account information and there is never a fee to enter or claim your prize.

In my 5 years of entering sweepstakes, I have only received two scam messages.  One was a phone message telling me I’d won eleven free nights of camping.  The caller did not leave the name of the sweepstakes on her message, so I did a Google search for the phone number.  I came up with a private campsite in California that sells time shares.  Just to be sure, I then searched for the name of the campsite and the word “sweepstakes.”  Nothing came up but there were online complaints linked to the phone number. The complaints said they were called and told they won camping but were really targeted for a time share.  I decided not to call back, and they called me about a dozen more times before getting the message.

The other scam was a bit trickier.  I received a “Congratulations” e-mail that listed all the aspects of the prize that I had supposedly won, including airfare, hotel, activities and more.  I looked at my list of sweepstakes that I had entered and it wasn’t there, so I did a little more research just in case I had forgotten to track that one.  I searched Google for the sponsor and sweepstakes name and soon discovered there had been such a contest but that the entry period and prize was awarded one year ago to that day.  Someone else had won it, and now a scammer was using the company’s information about the prize to try to get me to respond with my personal information.  Luckily I caught on in time!

There are ways to stay safe from sweepstakes scams!

  1. Track Your Sweepstakes: If you didn’t enter it, you didn’t win it!
  2. Never give out bank account information or otherwise pay to claim a prize. A legitimate sweepstakes will never ask you for money.
  3. If you receive a vague win notification, be suspicious. Scam sweepstakes usually won’t know your name and won’t list the sweepstakes name or sponsor.
  4. Don’t be afraid to do a little research on the information in your win letter.  Approach it with a skeptical eye until the information can be verified.