Everyone dreams of winning a sweepstakes. But be careful not to get swept away in a scam if you receive a phone call or letter in the mail saying you've won.

According to Diane Clay, director of communications for the Attorney General's Public Protection Unit, there is a way to tell if the sweepstakes is real or not.

“If scammers call you or send a letter and say ‘you have won a sweepstakes and you need to send us money to receive your money,’ it’s fake," Clay said. "Don’t send them the money.”

“The scammers will say you need to send the money for taxes, a processing fee or shipping and handling before they send you money,” she said.

However, that is all bogus, said Woodward County Sheriff Gary Stanley.

“If they (scammers) ask you to send a processing fee it’s fake,” Stanley said. “If it is a real sweepstake you will never have to spend any money to get your prize.”

Clay said the scammers like to receive their money quickly.  That is why they will often “tell the victims to wire the money or send a money order overnight before the victim can realize it’s a scam and cancel the check,” she said.

Using the lure of large payouts of hundreds of thousands of dollars, scammers can trick victims out of some substantial money.

Clay provided an example of a recent case she heard about in the last 2 weeks in which an individual was conned out of $1,600 through a sweepstakes scam.

IT’S EASY TO OBTAIN INFO

Both Clay and Stanley said people should beware of falling for a scam by thinking that the people contacting you must be legitimate just because they know your name.

Clay said it is easy for a stranger to get your name, mailing address and phone number.

“All they have to do is pick up a phone book and there is all the information they need,” Clay said.

In addition, Stanley said they are places where people can buy a list of people who purchased items from them.

“That is the way credit card companies get their information; they buy a list of people from another company and send you stuff you in the mail,” the sheriff said, noting “Scammers can do that too.”

TARGETING THE ELDERLY

Clay said scammers will try to scam anyone, but there is one group of individuals they will often target most.

“It’s common for scammers to try to scam older people,” she said.

Older people are more susceptible to respond to the scammer’s request, she said.

“If you have a family member who may be living at home with you or alone talk with them about scams,” Clay said.

According to information on a Woodward  Police call log earlier this week, a conscientious son contacted police after his elderly mother received a letter asking her to send $1,300 to a company in order to receive a $300,000 prize.  The call log notes the man told the police dispatcher that his mother was ready to send the check until he intervened and told her that it was a scam.

Clay said it is important to stay vigilant because scammers will try to get money from the same victim more than once.

“Once the people (scammers) receive the money they will call the victim again (in the future) and tell them they won a different sweepstakes,” she said.

TIPS TO AVOID BEING SCAMMED

A press release from the Attorney General's Office listed several tips to avoid being scammed, which Clay described as “very helpful.”

• Remember legitimate sweepstakes don’t require you to pay or buy something to enter or improve your chances of winning. Nor do they require you to pay “taxes” or “shipping and handling charges” to get your prize.

• Recognize that fraudulent promoters might instruct you to send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier to enter a contest or claim your “prize.” This is a favorite ploy for con artists because it lets them take your money fast, before you realize you have been cheated.

• Be aware that disclosing your checking account or credit card account number over the phone in response to a sweepstakes promotion or for any reason other than to buy the product or service being sold is a sure fire way to be scammed in the future.

In addition, the press release urged that if you are contacted as part of a potential scam to take the caller’s contact information if possible and call the attorney general’s office.  You can also submit information from possible scam letters to the attorney general.

For more information about fraud and how to avoid it or to report a fraud, call the Attorney General’s Public Protection Unit at (405) 521-2029 or go online at www.oag.ok.gov.

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