You won! Not so fast--sweepstakes scammers posing as legitimate watchdog groups

You won! Not so fast--sweepstakes scammers posing as legitimate watchdog groups

Your phone rings and the caller ID says it's someone from the National Consumers League. You answer the phone, and one of our friendly staffers informs you that you have won the lottery! All you need to do is pay taxes on the winnings, and you can trust the National Consumers League to help facilitate this process and make sure you get your winnings without any trouble.

Unfortunately, the caller is not a volunteer from the National Consumers League, but rather a scammer using our trusted name to cheat you out of your money.

Scammers’ cons are built on the trust they develop with their victims. One way that they do so is by saying that they are affiliated with a respected organization.

In the past few months, NCL, along with other well-known interest groups like the AARP, have seen an increase in complaints about scammers posing as employees of our organizations in order to trick their victims into believing they have won a sweepstakes, lottery, or some form of a government grant.

One consumer from California we spoke with received a call from a fraudster impersonating an employee of NCL. “The ‘employee’ informed me that I had won a prize of $915,000 from a sweepstakes company, and that it would be overseen by the National Consumers League to prevent fraud. To claim my prize I just needed to pay a tax of around 1% (more than $9,000) by cashiers check first.”

Scammers have been known to impersonate organizations’ employees, draft letters with official-looking letterhead, and spoof victims’ caller ID to make it look like they are receiving a phone call from the real organization’s office.

As with any lottery or sweepstakes, you should never be asked to pay in order to receive your prize. If you are asked to pay anything upfront, you are getting scammed. Consumers have been tricked into paying for phony “insurance,” “taxes” owed to the IRS or the state treasury, “processing fees,” or “lawyers’ fees.”

The National Consumers League has never and will never be involved in any lottery or sweepstakes. If anyone claiming to be from the National Consumers League contacts you about a prize you have won, they are trying to scam you.

To protect yourself from scammers impersonating NCL or any other organization, it is important to remember the following:

  1. Caller ID is easily spoofed. Scammers are pros at tricking Caller ID systems into showing the caller information they want it to show. Just because the Caller ID says “National Consumers League” or the “IRS,” does not guarantee that the person on the other end is affiliated with that organization.
  2. Never pay for a prize. If someone informs you that you won a prize, you should not have to pay any taxes, delivery fees, or insurance payments in order to collect it. If they tell you otherwise, it’s a scam.
  3. When in doubt, ask. If you’re not sure if the caller or sender was real, look up the phone number for the individual or agency in your phonebook or on the agency’s or company’s official website. Call that number yourself and check to see if what you were told by the caller is accurate.
  4. Be careful of email senders who appear to be legit. Scammers can spoof the “from” address of emails and have been known to run imposter scams over email. If you receive an email from someone demanding money right away, it’s probably a scam. Instead of replying, simply delete the email. Don’t click on any links or attachments—they could contain malware that will infect your computer and steal your personal information.
  5. If asked for payment with a wire transfer, cash-reload card, or gift card—it’s a scam. These are all ways that scammers love to be paid because it’s very difficult to track.

Report suspected fraud. If you become a victim of an imposter scam or you suspect you have spotted one, report it! You can file a complaint at Fraud.org via our secure online complaint form. We’ll share your complaint with our network of more than 90 law enforcement and consumer protection agency partners who can and do put fraudsters behind bars. The Federal Trade Commission also has many great resources on imposter scams available at www.ftc.gov/imposters.