CLEVELAND - An Olmsted Township woman thought it odd that she "won" $50,000 in a sweepstakes she didn't remember entering. The letter arrived earlier this month from Optimum Financial, a New Hampshire company. Enclosed with her congratulatory letter was a check for $2,850.50 written on an AFLAC bank account.
When the "winner" called the number for the sweepstakes claim office to get instructions on how to receive her winnings, she told BBB the call was answered by a man with a foreign accent who seemed to be located in a call center, judging by background noises. She was to deposit the check and wire $2,000 for a "Tax Clearance Fee." Smelling a rat, she notified the BBB.
BBB's investigation revealed that Optimum Financial had been the victim of identity theft. Optimum Financial is a BBB Accredited Business whose name and address were used on the mailing without authorization. Much like the counterfeit checks from AFLAC that were enclosed in the letters.
Sweepstakes scams usually send victims unsolicited checks or money orders with directions to deposit the money, and immediately wire a portion of it back to cover processing fees or taxes. Soon after this, victims learn that the checks are counterfeit, but have already wired the money and can't get it back. Consumers are then responsible for paying their banks back for any money they withdrew. The BBB advises check out questionable offers with BBB at Cleveland.bbb.org or (216) 241-7678. And pay close attention to the following suggestions.
- By federal law, you cannot be required to purchase an item or pay any upfront fee in order to receive sweepstakes prizes.
- Never wire money unless you are prepared to lose it. Scammers are known to use Western Union, MoneyGram, Green Dot cards, and similar payment options that transfer funds electronically.
- Your bank is required to make deposited funds available to you long before they are able to determine if a check is counterfeit. If you withdraw the funds too soon, you may end up owing them back to your bank.