The trick is that the further instructions will include directions to wire money to the scammers. Shortly thereafter, the check will bounce, and you will be out all of the money that you sent (and perhaps held liable to your bank for cashing a fraudulent check!). To help you avoid this insidious form of fraud, here is the text of an actual sweepstakes check scam letter that an acquaintance received:
Moneywise America Lotto
Certificate of Award
Director of Promotions
Dear [acquaintance's name]:
After a successful completion of the third category draws of the Moneywise America Lotto; we are please to inform you of the official announcement today that you have emerged as one of our monthly winners for the month of May. All participants are randomly selected through our computer ballot system drawn from hundreds of thousands of names and addresses of individuals who previously signed for the North American Sweepstakes, as part of our international promotions programs.CONGRATULATIONS!
Your ticket emerged as a winning ticket and consequently won in the third category. You have therefore been awarded a lumpsum payout of USD $65 000 (Sixty Five Thousand Dollars) in cash, which is the winning payout for third category winners. This is from the total prize money of USD $408 000) shared among Six (6) winners in the Third category .A tax and clearance fee of USD $1, 875.00 has been financed with the enclosed check of USD $1 995.80 and is deducted from your total winnings .Kindly cash your check for the tax and clearance fees .Your tax and clearance fee of UDS $1 875.00 should be remitted to our designated North American Agent .This award program has come to the public notice so in order to avoid unauthorized organizations, individuals contacting you ,please ensure that this winning is kept absolutely confidential.
If this process is not completed on or before [just a few days after letter is received], we shall assume this prize as unclaimed and the prize will be automatically null and void .Please contact your claims agent on [temporary cell phone number] Monday to Saturday for information on how to claim your prize and any questions you may have.
Once again, congratulations from our staff and thank you for being part of our promotion.
Signs that this is a Sweepstakes Check ScamThis letter is more subtle than the lottery scam example. It included the recipient's actual name (probably purchased along with the address from a mail order list) and is relatively free of typos, except for some minor grammatical issues and strange spacing. However, the following warning signs of a sweepstakes scam are there:
- A large check arriving without an affidavit.
- It claims to be a win from an international lottery (which would be illegal unless a ticket was bought in Canada)
- It came via bulk mail.
- There's a rush to reply (and pressure to keep the notice secret - so that no one could warn the victim of the scam).
- They're asking you to pay taxes - which should always go directly to the IRS at the end of the year. When real wins cover taxes, the money is just included in the winnings.
Verdict: Sweepstakes scam
Have you received a sweepstakes check scam in your mail? Post the text in the Have You Received a Sweepstakes Scam? thread in the forum to help others recognize these frauds.