Beware of fake lottery scams

Some scammers falsely use Mega Millions name

“You’ve won the lottery!” It’s something that many people want to hear. But sometimes those words come from scammers who are trying to steal your money. Some of those scammers have falsely identified themselves as being affiliated with Mega Millions. No representative of Mega Millions would ever call or e-mail anyone about winning a prize.

The scams often target older people and have been known to wipe out victims’ retirement savings.

The scams take many forms and the scammers use many tricks. In most cases, the criminals e-mail or call to tell intended victims they have won a large prize. They might identify themselves as being with Mega Millions or another legitimate lottery, even though Mega Millions is a game, not an organization.

These scams all have one thing in common: They try to trick you into sending them money or personal information by claiming that you have won a large lottery prize.

If the person is fooled into thinking he or she has won a prize, the crooks usually try to get the person to wire money for “taxes” or “fees.” They may also try to get the victim to provide them with a bank account number, which they will then clean out. Another trick is to send the winner a bogus “check” and ask the winner to send money back to cover expenses. It is only after victims have sent their own money that they discover the check they received is counterfeit.

Here are some tips that can prevent you from being scammed:

* If someone says you have won a lottery that you have never played, be suspicious. You can’t win a legitimate lottery if you didn’t buy a ticket.

* If you have caller-ID on your phone, check the area code when someone calls to tell you you’ve won. If it is from a foreign country, that is a red flag. Also, be aware that some con artists use technology that allows them to disguise their area code: although it may look like they’re calling from your state, they could be anywhere in the world.

* Be suspicious if an e-mail contains misspellings or poor grammar, or if the person who called you uses poor English.

* If you are told that you need to keep your “win” confidential, be suspicious.

* No real lottery tells winners to put up their own money in order to collect a prize they have already won. If you have to pay a fee to collect your winnings, you haven’t won.

* Just because a real lottery is mentioned does not necessarily make it a real prize. Someone may be using the lottery’s name without its permission or knowledge.

* Never give out personal information or send money unless you verify the company’s or solicitor’s legitimacy.

* If they offer to wire the “winnings” directly into your bank account, do not give them your bank account information.

* If you are told that you can “verify” the prize by calling a certain number, that number may be part of the scam. Instead of calling it, you should look up the name of the lottery or organization on your own to find out its real contact information.

* If you think someone on the phone is trying to scam you, hang up immediately. If you engage them in conversation, your name and contact information could end up on a list that’s shared with other scammers.

The Federal Trade Commission has more information on fake lottery and other scams at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt022.shtm. To file a complaint or get free information call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). If you have been the victim of a scam, contact your local police or sheriff’s office or state police.

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