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Consumers: Don’t Be Fooled by Imposters Tempting You with Big Financial Prizes and Counterfeit Checks

Friday, January 20, 2012 08:00 AM

According to the Better Business Bureau, sweepstakes and lottery scams are among the top 10 most prevalent scams of 2011

ENGLEWOOD, Colo.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Jan. 20, 2012-- It’s tempting to play a foreign lottery, especially when you hear you have better odds playing overseas than in the U.S. It’s also tempting to draw on your sweepstakes winnings of a million dollars, especially when the check looks legitimate and the funds are cleared for use by your bank in just a couple of days. Consumers beware: if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

“Sophisticated scammers prey on people lured in by these ‘once in a lifetime’ offers and then take the money and run,” said Shelley Bernhardt, Director of Consumer Protection at Western Union (NYSE: WU), a leader in global payment services. “We want to provide consumers with the right information so they can avoid these kinds of traps. After all, they’re the first and best line of defense against fraud.”

Lottery or prize scams follow two similar patterns:

1. Victims get an unsolicited phone call, email, letter or fax from someone claiming to work for a government agency or claiming to represent a well-known celebrity, notifying them that they’ve won a lot of money. The scammer gains their trust and explains that, in order to collect their winnings, they first have to send a small sum of money back to pay for processing fees or taxes. Following the instructions they’re given, they immediately wire the money. They never hear again from the person who contacted them and they’re out the money they paid for “fees and taxes.”

2. Victims get an unsolicited check or money order and directions to deposit the money and immediately wire a portion of it back to cover processing fees or taxes. Weeks later, victims learn the checks are counterfeit, but they’ve already wired the money to cover the “taxes” and can’t get it back. And they’re on the hook to pay their banks back for any money they withdrew.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, more than 120,000 people submitted complaints about these types of scams in 2010.

In the first scenario, the offers look and sound legitimate. But a legitimate sweepstakes company won’t make you pay-to-play or pay to receive your winnings. Scammers also lie to lure a victim in and may use appealing devices, such as celebrity names, to make their offer seem more authentic. The top sweepstakes scam of 2011, according to the Better Business Bureau, is the email claiming to be from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announcing that the receiver won $1 million.

In the second scenario, victims are tempted by a legitimate-looking check and mistakenly think their bank confirms the funds are good before allowing them access to it. This is false—by law banks must make the funds deposited available within a few days, but it can take weeks to uncover a fake check.

Said Bernhardt: “Lottery and prize scams are one of the leading fraudulent schemes we see people fall victim to but people can protect themselves by keeping in mind a few simple rules.”

The rules include:

  • Never send money to people or organizations you don’t know; only send money to people you personally know and trust.
  • Never send money to pay for taxes or fees on lottery or prize winnings. Legitimate sweepstakes don’t require you to pay or buy something to enter or improve your chances of winning; or to pay taxes or processing fees to get your prize.
  • Never provide your banking information to unknown individuals or businesses.
  • Never withdraw or send funds from a check in your account until it officially clears, which can take weeks.
  • Be alert. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
  • Do your research. Check out the company that contacted you with local law enforcement or a consumer protection agency like the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, or other trusted sources.
  • Read the fine print—legitimate offers clearly disclose the terms and conditions of the promotion, including the rules, how the entry process works, and your odds of winning.
  • Don’t play the foreign lottery. It’s illegal.

Western Union provides a trusted and reliable way for people to send money to family members and friends. However, it is important to remember that a money transfer can be paid out to the receiver within a short time—even minutes—and after the money is paid, consumers cannot obtain a refund from Western Union even if the transfer was the result of fraud.

If you sent a Western Union Money Transfer® and believe you may be a victim of fraud, call the Western Union Fraud Hotline number at (800) 448-1492. Information on fraud scams is available on the Consumer Protection section of Western Union website at: Additional information on money transfer scams is available from the Federal Trade Commission at: > Consumer Protection > Money Matters > Scam Watch > Money Wiring Scams.

About Western Union

The Western Union Company (NYSE: WU) is a leader in global payment services. Together with its Vigo, Orlandi Valuta, Pago Facil and Western Union Business Solutions branded payment services, Western Union provides consumers and businesses with fast, reliable and convenient ways to send and receive money around the world, to send payments and to purchase money orders. As of Sept. 30, 2011, the Western Union, Vigo and Orlandi Valuta branded services are offered through a combined network of approximately 485,000 agent locations in 200 countries and territories. In 2010, The Western Union Company completed 214 million consumer-to-consumer transactions worldwide, moving $76 billion of principal between consumers, and 405 million business payments. For more information, visit


Source: Western Union

Western Union
Kathy Bell, 720-332-5248

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