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If it's too good to be true ...
Sweepstakes Scams.jpg

Many older residents in Warren County are at risk for falling for sweepstakes scams by having checks and statements sent through the mail to inform them of winnings, only to end up losing a great deal of their own money by falling for the trick.

A local elderly woman received a letter from a company claiming to be Publisher’s Clearing House awarding her $2.7 million. A check worth over $8,600 was included to help pay for taxes and processing fees. 

During these scams, checks are sent in the mail and state an individual has won a large sum of money through a contest or sweepstakes, and a check will be sent in order to pay for necessities in order to obtain the winnings. 

“We see these scams fairly often,” says US Bank personal banker Robert Hillis. “Probably 75 percent of the people I see affected by sweepstakes scams are elderly.”

The scams require the victim to deposit the received check into their personal bank account and withdraw the requested amount of money to send back to the company to pay for a certain fee. 

Hillis states the checks normally bounce within three to five business days, and the individual on the account is liable for paying back the amount of money the check was written for. 

If no money is taken from the fraudulent check, the individual will only have to pay a bank fine. However, the amount of money taken out of the check to send back to the scammers will have to be paid back to the bank. The payment is typically requested to be made through Western Union or MoneyGram, or by getting a reloadable card or gift card.

“You see an increase in these things around the holidays. People are less guarded,” says Hillis. “Elderly people tend to trust others more. Sadly, people take advantage of that trust.”

The Federal Trade Commission states some scammers will send a realistic-looking fake check in the mail, and in order to claim the prize, the winner will need to deposit the check and send some of the money back for made-up expenses, but when the check bounces, even after it seemed to clear, the winner may be on the hook for the money sent. Being asked to pay or to deposit a check and send money back are sure signs of a scam. An actual sweepstakes doesn’t require fees to participate in or receive a prize.

 “No legitimate sweepstakes is going to send you money only to ask for money back,” adds Hillis. “If it sounds too good to be true, it normally is.”

The best way to prevent being scammed is by knowing where the funds are coming from. Hillis advises not to make the deposit if uncertain of the reason or sender.