The IC3, a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White Collar Crime Center says it continues to receive reports of phony prize-winning notifications containing counterfeit checks bearing legitimate-looking logos of various financial institutions to fool victims into sending money to scammers.These scams typically involve fraudsters informing victims they've won a sweepstakes or lottery, but in order to receive a lump sum payout, they need to pay taxes and processing fees upfront. Consumers are then directed to call a telephone number to receive a letter of instruction detailing the steps necessary to collect their winnings, the IC3 says.
These letters offer victims an advance on their "winnings" to make the upfront payment, and include counterfeit checks in the amount of the alleged taxes and fees, along with processing instructions. Although consumers who fall for these scams believe they're using the advance to make the required payment, they're actually falling into a trap.
Once a victim deposits the check into their bank account, the bank credits the account for the amount of the check before it clears, allowing the consumer to withdraw the money and wire it to the fraudsters. When the bank determines the check is counterfeit, the victim is left liable for the amount of the phony check plus any additional penalties the bank may assess.
The IC3 says consumers tend to fall for these scams due to the allure of easy money and the apparent legitimacy of the phony checks the fraudsters include in the letters of instruction. The alleged cash prizes and locations of the financial institutions vary from scam to scam.
The IC3 offers consumers the following tips to avoid being scammed:
- A federal statute prohibits mailing lottery tickets, advertisements, or payments to purchase tickets in a foreign lottery.
- Be leery if you do not remember entering a lottery or sweepstakes.
- Beware of lotteries or sweepstakes that charge a fee prior to delivering your prize.
- Be wary of demands to send additional money as a requirement to be eligible for future winnings.
The IC3 complaint database links complaints for potential referral to law enforcement for case consideration. Complaint information is also used to identify emerging trends and patterns to alert the public to new criminal schemes.