Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and local law enforcement are warning Ohioans to avoid lottery and sweepstakes scams as the Mega Millions and Powerball jackpots grow.
In 2015, the Ohio Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section has received more than 400 complaints about sweepstakes or prizes, according to a release from the Attorney General’s office. Most consumers do not lose money, but dozens of individuals have reported losses ranging from $12 to more than $200,000.
London Police Officer Greg Perkins is familiar with these kinds of cases.
“I’ve had numerous investigations,” Perkins said.
Perkins is currently working with local FBI on a case involving a scam in which the scammers claimed to be Publishers Clearing House, a company that markets merchandise and magazine subscriptions through sweepstakes and prize-based games.
The victim was informed that he or she had won a large sum of money, but had to pay an amount in order to get the cash. In this case, the victim lost about $20,000.
“(The scammers are) crafty on how they word their scam,” Perkins said. “They pitch it to them so it’s believable for some people.”
The scams often begin with a phone call or a letter claiming the consumer has won a few million dollars through a lottery or sweepstakes. In order to collect the winnings, consumers are told to wire a few hundred or a few thousand dollars to cover fees or taxes. In reality, they haven’t won a prize, and any money they send will be lost.
Individuals who send money once usually will be contacted again and asked to send more money to cover taxes, customs fees, or other costs supposedly associated with delivering the winnings. As long as the victim continues to send money, the scam artist will keep calling.
Perkins said in his experience, the scammers are most often outside the country, which makes tracking difficult.
“It’s problematic for law enforcement to track those transactions out of the United States,” Perkins said.
Perkins added that even if a sure suspect is found, charges are difficult to file because the monetary amounts are relatively small on the scale of international matters, though they are substantial to the victims.
Signs of a lottery scam include:
• Winning a lottery you don’t remember entering.
• Calls from a lottery or government agency saying you’ve won millions.
• Receiving an unexpected check for a few thousand dollars.
• Having to pay a fee to collect your winnings.
• Having to send money via wire transfer or prepaid card.
• Having to call an 876 (Jamaican) area code phone number.
Attorney General DeWine encourages consumers to take the following steps to avoid scams:
• Don’t trust someone who says you won a lottery you did not enter. If you didn’t buy a ticket, you didn’t win.
• Don’t wire money or pay a fee to receive your winnings.
• Don’t give out your personal information to someone who contacts you unexpectedly over the phone or through email.
• Be skeptical if you are asked to call an out-of-country phone number in connection with a lottery or sweepstakes win.
• Be skeptical if you receive an unexpected check for a few thousand dollars. It could be a counterfeit check used as part of a scam.
• If you have older relatives or friends, look for signs that they have been targeted by lottery scams. Red flags include unusual banking activities, wire transfer receipts, or an increased number of phone calls made to them.
Consumers should report potential scams to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov or by calling 1-800-282-0515.
Brandon Semler can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1615 or via Twitter @BrandonSemler.