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New year, new round of shady foreign scams. These come courtesy of celebrity sweepstakes and foreign lotteries, tempting games to play when you hear the odds of winning are better overseas.
But don’t be foolish—these “once in a lifetime offers” will turn your pockets inside-out.
Among the top scams in 2011, according to the Better Business Bureau, were ones in which celebrities like Mark Zuckerberg “messaged” consumers, saying they were the recipient of $1 million from Facebook.
In such cases, the scammer explains that in order to collect the winnings, the recipient needs to send money for processing fees and taxes. The scammer then promises to wire the money once the fees are received, but of course that never happens.
In the second scenario, victims will receive an unsolicited money order or check, which they’re then asked to deposit at their bank. Again, they’re asked to return a portion of the money via wire to cover processing fees and taxes, but this time they’ll be on the hook for a counterfeit check—and there won’t be a way to recoup the money they’ve withdrawn.
The Federal Trade Commission said it received more than 12,000 complaints about these scams in 2010. To ensure you don’t add to that number, follow these tips from Western Union’s director of Consumer Protection, Shelley Bernhardt:
- Only send money to people you know and trust.
- Never give your banking info unknown people or businesses.
- Do your homework, checking up on a company’s background with the Better Business Bureau, Federal Trade Commission and other trusted sources.
- Never play the foreign lottery. It’s illegal.
- If someone asks you to pay money for taxes or fees, assume it’s a scam.
- If the offer sounds too good to be true, trust your gut.
Have you been the victim of a lottery or prize scam? Sound off in the comments.