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Sweepstakes scams continue to claim victims who believe they have won a lottery, cash prize, vehicle, etc. and only need to take a few actions to obtain their winnings. In this scam, fraudsters generally contact victims by phone, text, email, or through the mail to tell them that they have won or have been entered to win a prize. Scammers then require the victims to pay a fee to either collect their supposed winnings or improve their odds of winning the prize.

The criminals will often instruct their victims not to share the good news with anyone so that it will be a “surprise” when their families find out. Scammers tell victims to send money in a variety of ways, including prepaid debit card, electronic wire transfers, money orders and even cold hard cash.

Of course, no such winnings are ever delivered, and the “winners” get nothing but more phone calls, sometimes 50 to 100 calls per day, from scammers demanding additional money.  The con artists adopt a variety of identities to keep the money coming in ever-increasing amounts. Some spend hours on the phone convincing the victims that they care deeply for them. Victims who resist their entreaties begin receiving calls from crooks posing as American government officials, including local law enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Social Security Administration, and the Department of Homeland Security, asking for personal data and bank account numbers so they can “solve” the crime.

Below are some warning signs of Sweepstakes scams:

Does your notification ask you to pay money for any reason? If so, you’re almost certainly dealing with a scam. Legitimate sweepstakes will never ask you to pay fees to participate or to receive a prize. You should never have to pay sweepstakes taxes, handling charges, service fees, customs fees, or any other kind of charges up front to receive anything you’ve won.

The only sweepstakes you can win are the sweepstakes you’ve entered. If you receive a win notification from a giveaway that you don’t remember entering, it’s a red flag.

If you receive a win notification by email, check the email address that sent the notification. A notification that is sent from a free email address like Gmail or Yahoo Mail is a warning sign of a scam.

Does your win notification pressure you to respond quickly before you lose your chance to claim your prize? If so, proceed carefully.  Sweepstakes scammers have a good reason for wanting you to act quickly: they want to ensure that they receive their money before their check bounces or you read an article like this one and realize that you are being defrauded.

Do you have to verify your bank account number or credit card number to get your prize? This is a clear sign of a sweepstakes scam.

Contact your local InterBank branch if you have any questions regarding un-solicited or suspicious sweepstakes prize notifications.