Amanda Johnson Havre Daily News email@example.com
Local law enforcement officials are receiving reports of sweepstakes check scams several times a day and want the public to be alerted of scams running rampant in Havre and throughout the area. Even a 16-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy were recently reported to have received fictitious checks from sweepstakes winnings. Roxanne Brewer, financial services specialist at Bear Paw Credi t Union, sai d "Everyone is at risk for these types of scams. A lot of the scams are coming from the Internet where people are putting in information where they shouldn't be." The checks are coming from a wide range of countries and states. A common check scam surfacing now involves the consumer receiving a check in the mail for an amount around $2,900. The instructions with the check ask the consumer to send back $1,900 for processing fees or other fees associated with the winnings. People who receive a check in question such should take it to their financial institution for validity. In another scenario, a consumer receives a check in the mail for payment of something they sold online, however the amount of the check is more than the sell price. The scamming company asks the consumer to wire back a portion of the check for processing fees and so on. "If the consumer deposits the check they are then legally responsible for the funds when the check doesn't clear," said Brewer. The scam checks look exactly like real checks and are drawn on a real bank and include a phone number for the bank. However, if people call the number on the check to verify funds they will be routed to the scammer who will of course tell the caller there is sufficient funds in the account and to go ahead and deposit the check. These types of scams often have two or three different addresses listed. There is a return address on the outside of the envelope, another address on the check itself and a completely different address to wire the funds to. Typically the addresses are in different states. "Consumers need to understand that, once money is wired, it's gone. There is no getting it back, and the problem is compounded by the fact that many of these scams are run by people outside of the United States in countries where my office and the consumer have no legal recourse," said Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath. There are several ways for people to protect themselves from these scams," he added. Typically the scammers are getting consumers' information from somewhere they should not have given it. Unless people initiate contact with a business they should not give out any information and should always verify first that they are dealing with a reputable company. "They should ask for phone numbers and address so that they can verify who they are dealing with," McGrath said. "When in doubt people should take the check in question to their financial institution for verification. (The bank) can tell if the check is valid or not." One example of entering information where people should not are e-mails. If a company sends an e-mail asking to click on a link to "update Your personal information," people should not click on the link. According to www.doj . Mt.gov/consumer/consumer/ internetsecurity.asp, "these types of e-mails are known as phishing e-mails and appear to come from companies and agencies, even government agencies and charities with whom consumers may regularly conduct business, and frequently contain links to sites that look remarkably like a legitimate organization's site. These e-mails often threaten a consequence such as closing an account, or terminating a service unless consumers update their billing information. These messages and sites are bogus. They seek to trick consumers into divulging information to operators who can in turn steal their identities, get credit or run up bills in the consumer’s name." There are instructions on how to report these fictitious e-mails on the legitimate company's Web site. McGrath said people receiving a phishing e-mail should immediately report it to the company whose Web site it crossed. Fake lotteries are another popular scam. Consumers should know that they cannot win the lottery if they didn't initiate contact. "Montanans need to remember that you cannot win a lottery when you have not bought a ticket, and playing an international lottery by mail or phone from the United States is illegal," said Montana Lottery Director George Parisot. "Nobody is just going to give you free money. If you don't know who the person is, don't put the check in your account," said Michelle Truax, supervisor of the Office of Consumer Protection. For more information about today's scams, call Michelle Truax at (800) 481-6869, or go online to: www.doj.mt.gov/consumer/ consumer/, www.doj. m t . G o v / n e w s / r e l e a s - es2006/05182006.asp, or www. Doj .mt .gov/news / releas - es2007/20070313.asp.