by Sheryl Reichert

Sheryl Reichert, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of San Diego and Imperial Counties.

Sheryl Reichert, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of San Diego and Imperial Counties.

Ring, ring. You get a call from a number starting with area code 876. The caller announces that you’ve won the “Mega Millions Jamaican Lottery.”

Don’t worry about collecting your winnings from overseas, assures the “lottery official,” who also might identify themselves as a lawyer or customs official. Since you are a winner, you need only to pay fees for shipping, insurance, customs duties or taxes before you can claim the prize and then the jackpot is yours.

In fact, the lottery official will even take a prepaid debit card that is available at your neighborhood convenience store. You simply go to the nearest pharmacy or big retail store, buy the card, load-up the card with money and then share the number and PIN with the “lottery official.”

Sounds like great news, right? Wrong. Of course, the caller is a scam artist.

A new twist is that scammers are asking people to pay “taxes and fees” with a prepaid debit card. But, once you give them the card information, they will drain the account and disappear. Some victims are even reporting being threatened with physical harm if they don’t agree to pay the fees.

And just so you know, playing in a foreign lottery is against U.S. federal law. So, if you get a call offering you the opportunity to play a foreign lottery or telling you that you’ve won a foreign lottery, odds are good that it’s a scam. Participating in a foreign lottery, either on the telephone or through the mail, is a violation of federal law. Even buying one foreign lottery ticket will put your name on “sucker lists” that fraudulent telemarketers buy and sell to each other. Then, you can expect many more bogus offers for lotteries or investment “opportunities.”

Here are tips to avoid lottery and sweepstakes scams:

— You can’t win a contest you didn’t enter. You need to buy a ticket or complete an application to participate in a contest or lottery. So, be very careful if you’ve been selected as a winner for a contest you never entered.

— If you get a call from out of the blue telling you that “you’re a winner,” don’t pay any money to collect your sweepstakes winnings. You should never have to pay money or buy products in order to receive a prize. Legitimate sweepstakes don’t require you to pay “insurance,” “taxes” or “shipping and handling charges” to collect your prize.

— Do not disclose your credit card and bank account numbers to strangers. Scam artists often ask for this information during an unsolicited sales pitch and then use it to commit other frauds against you.

— Put your number on the “do not call list” by joining the National Do Not Call Registry by calling1-888-382-1222.This won’t stop scams entirely but it can help reduce the number of unwanted calls you receive.

The Better Business Bureau offers free educational information on how to be aware, informed and proactive so people can protect themselves against frauds and scams. For additional consumer protection information, visit www.bbb.org or contact the Better Business Bureau (BBB) by phoning (858) 637-6199 during regular business hours.

Sheryl Reichert
Sheryl Reichert