Area residents should beware of sweepstakes scam

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 3, 2006

Sometimes, if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Residents need to be wary if they receive a check in the mail from Goodrich Disbursements, saying that it is an &#8220unclaimed funds resources and payment verification center.”

According to Jodie Tucker, loan officer with First Lowndes Bank - Highland Home Branch, the check that recipients may receive in the mail looks like a legitimate check.

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&#8220If people call the phone number that's listed on the check, it will sound legitimate and real,” Tucker said.

The letter that is sent in the mail says that the recipient won a sweepstakes, but that they had already been notified two times before, and that this was the last letter of notification. If the recipient did not follow the directions in the letter, he or she would lose the sweepstakes prize money that had been &#8220won.”

According to the letter, a cash prize of over $250,000 had been deposited and insured in the winner's name. However, &#8220due to the length of time your funds have laid unclaimed, a processing fee has accrued; therefore, we have attached a cashier's check to assist you with your claim.”

Tucker said that she had seen one check in the amount of $2,900 that the winner was supposed to deposit into his or her checking account, then turn around and send a personal check of their own to the Goodrich Disbursement Center in order to claim their sweepstakes prize.

There's just one big problem. The check is no good.

Tucker said that once the check is cashed, the person discovers that the original cashier's check that was sent in the mail is null and void, and that person has just lost $2,900 to an account that can't be traced.

&#8220The bank routing number on these checks is wrong,” Tucker said. &#8220But, if you're not a bank employee, you wouldn't know this. No one else would probably be suspicious of the check.”

Tucker said that she contacted the Consumer Affairs Office and was told that another problem with sweepstakes scams like this one is that they may change company names or bank names.

&#8220They will target small communities, especially rural areas, and especially the elderly,” she said.

People can avoid scams like this one by getting details in writing and checking them out, and they should only deal with reputable businesses and should avoid &#8220deals” that require money upfront, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

If someone has already been scammed, he should call a nationwide consumer reporting company and place a fraud alert on his credit reports, get a credit report, close accounts that have been tampered with and report the incident to the local police and to the FTC.

Consumers should also remember never to provide personal information over the telephone or the Internet unless they know the company they are dealing with. Plus, personal documents, credit card offers and other mail should be shredded or destroyed before being discarded in the trash.

Always review credit card bills and bank statements as soon as they arrive to check for anything that looks out of the ordinary. Also, consumers should check their credit report for warning signs of fraud.