Recently, the Federal Trade Commission warned consumers about scammers disguised as government officials to obtain money. They will text, call, email, or even send you mail stating that you have won the lottery or have debt that needs to be paid immediately.

Sometimes, the organization is disguised as the non-existent “National Sweepstakes Bureau,” but other times, the scams are scarier, and possibly more effective. A fake law firm or government agency reaches out with the threat of a lawsuit or even arrest because of unpaid debt. The scams have even gotten sophisticated enough to have your correct name, address, and Social Security number attached.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you are contacted by a supposed government organization.

  • You don’t pay for prizes. When you enter to win something, you don’t need to pay to receive it. And, if you didn’t enter a drawing, there’s no way of winning a prize.
  • Foreign lotteries are a lose-lose. You might receive a letter in the mail stating you have won a foreign lottery—check enclosed—and all you have to do is pay for the taxes and fees with the check. This is a fake check scam, convincing you to deposit the check in your account and wire money to the sender to pay taxes and fees, forfeiting control of your account. Other times, the organization will give you a chance to enter a foreign lottery – which is illegal, and can lead to other consequences.
  • You don’t need to pay debt off urgently. And if the caller says so, it’s a fake debt collector. We all know when we acquire debt, and hopefully have the records and a schedule in mind for paying it off.

If you ever are pressured with these scams, never give out sensitive information and don’t feel pressured to wire money immediately. It is also helpful to ask the caller for his/her name, company, address, and telephone number for verification. If this information isn’t provided, you don’t need to provide yours.

Lastly, reporting such instances to the FTC, even if you didn’t fall to the scam, can only help the organization protect other consumers.




Guest blogger: Morgan is a communications intern at TDS and a junior at UW-Madison studying journalism.

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