I have been having a lot of my clients ask me about letters they are receiving about a lottery they just won (it is rarely called “lottery”, but that term captures the premise). The letter reads that they have won $1.2 million (or some other large dollar amount), and all they have to do is send $20 for processing, and they will be living in the lap of luxury. Unfortunately, I have to explain to my clients that this is just a scam.
Please don’t fall prey to these. Thankfully, I am able to guide and advise my clients who ask, but how many people are sending in that $20?
Not only do these scams prey on the vulnerable, once they have their hooks in, they are relentless. Losing the $20 is bad enough, but what happens is there will be a follow-up letter or phone call. The “claim department” received your check, and glory to be, you actually won the $2.5 million prize. But, because of the taxes (or some other “legal” gimmick used by the swindlers), you have to send a $100 check. This cycle repeats – the money has unforeseen tariffs, or there is a transfer fee. Each time, the swindlers ask for a larger and larger check. And obviously, there is never a payout – you are paying them, not the other way around.
Don’t be fooled. Ask yourself:
- Did I enter a sweepstakes or lottery? If not, then you can’t win.
- Do I have to pay to collect my “prize”? Never pay to claim a prize. Think about your State’s lottery – you pay when you buy the ticket, not when you won.
And if you are still not sure, ask a trusted friend, family member or adviser. These swindlers are professionals and very good at what they do – they fool hundreds of thousands of people.
And you can help others too. You can forward this blog post, you can talk to them, and if you get solicited in one of these scams you can report them to the Federal Trade Commission, State Attorney General or your local consumer protection office (In Arizona ; In New).
Many times when something seems too good to be true, it usually is.
Contributed by MH Estate Planning Attorney, James P. Plitz.
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