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Trust Matters

The Wisconsin Better Business Bureau (BBB) is a non-profit organization that has worked for more than 70 years to create a marketplace where buyers and sellers can trust each other. It accomplishes this through consumer and business education, setting ethical standards for businesses, complaint resolution and exposing unethical business practices.

"No, Virginia. You didn't win the lottery."

scam, lottery_scam, BBB

By Susan Bach
Wisconsin Better Business Bureau

Recently, I was sitting at my desk listening to one of my colleagues, Tracy, talk to a consumer on the phone. She’s only a couple of cubicles over, so I can hear her end of the conversation pretty well.

Tracy is trying to convince the consumer on the other end of the phone that she did not win the lottery. It’s actually a conversation I’ve heard hundreds, if not thousands, of times before. You’d think that most people would know by now that foreign lotteries are scams, but apparently the caller is unaware of this scam. And, even though I only hear half of it, the conversation usually goes something like this:

Caller: “Great news, BBB! I’ve won the Australian lottery and the nice folks over at the lotto office have sent me a check for a few thousand dollars, just so that I can pay the taxes and fees on the millions that I’m about to receive. All I have to do is deposit this first check, wire them a couple thousand dollars, and they’ll send me the rest of my winnings later.”

Tracy from the BBB: “Have you been to Australia, and do you remember buying a lottery ticket?”

Caller: “No. But apparently my name was randomly selected from millions of people on the internet.”

Tracy from the BBB: “I’m so sorry to have to tell you this, but you haven’t won the lottery. People are trying to scam you – and the check that they sent you is counterfeit.”

Caller: “I thought you might say that, so I looked up the bank whose name appears on the check. It’s a real bank, and the name of the company whose bank account the check was drawn from is real, too.”

Tracy from the BBB: “Unfortunately, the scammers use the names of real companies and real banks to make their checks look more realistic. The account number may even be real. But I assure you that the check is counterfeit.”

Caller: “What if I take it to my bank and the bank cashes it? If it turns out to be counterfeit, that’s the bank’s problem, right?”

Tracy from the BBB: “Unfortunately, no. When you deposit the check into your personal account and then withdraw money against it, you’ll have to pay the bank back if the check bounces – which it will, because it’s counterfeit.”  

Caller: “I don’t think so. This check looks very real.”

Tracy from the BBB: “We get dozens of calls like this every day. Scammers are pretty good at forging checks, but I’m 100% sure that check is counterfeit and that this is a scam.”

Tracy (who is a very patient person) spoke with this consumer for another 10 minutes before the conversation ended. I think, in the end, she was able to convince her not to wire any money to collect her “winnings”.  

So, what started out as a pretty exciting day for the caller, was just another ordinary day at the office for Tracy. She’s pretty good at giving advice – not just about lotteries, but about spotting other scams, too. Let’s just say that if you receive something a little questionable in the mail (or over the phone), it can’t hurt to run it past Tracy – or one of the BBB’s other Consumer Information Specialists – first. Our free advice might just save you thousands of dollars!

Call the Wisconsin BBB at 414-847-6000 (metro Milwaukee), 608-268-2221 (Madison), 920-734-4352 (Appleton) or 800-273-1002 (elsewhere in Wisconsin). Or, you can check out a company or get other consumer advice online at www.wisconsin.bbb.org. You could also like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter

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