Lead Generation Techniques Used by Con Artists for Direct Mail Fraud and Telemarketing Scams
Target Marketing of Fraud Victims
Victims are not created at random or by accident. They are chosen by the offenders because they are vulnerable in some way and because they have enough money or assets to be attractive. Victim selection can be done directly by researching specific information about you.
Anyone with a phone can be victimized by telemarketing scam artists. Telephone fraud knows no race, ethnic, gender, age, education or income barriers.
Fronters will sometimes seek out leads using community books and directories which list former occupations. They will also "cherry pick" elderly-sounding names from the phone book like Edna, Violet or Gertrude.
You may get a call from a stranger who got your number from a telephone directory, mailing list, or "sucker list." The latter refers to lists of consumers who have lost money through fraudulent prize promotions or merchandise sales.
These lists contain names, addresses, phone numbers, and other information, such as how much money was spent by people who have responded to telemarketing solicitations. "Sucker lists" are bought and sold by unscrupulous promoters and "list brokers".
They are invaluable to scam artists who know that consumers who have been deceived once are vulnerable to additional scams.
Telephones create economies of scale by allowing a single caller to target a large number of victims in a short time and at long distances.
Offenders maximize proceeds by focusing on target-groups most easily victimized, and by making large numbers of calls quickly, focusing on those who appear susceptible and hanging up on those who resist.
Fraudulent telemarketers and sellers may reach you in several ways, but the telephone always plays an important role.
You may not know it, but if you get frequent hang-up calls, they are probably telemarketers.
In order for them to have the maximum number of calls each hour, they dial ahead. They are on a call, but they are dialing the next two calls. If the current call stays on the phone longer, the future call goes to your house, but when you pick up, it hangs up.
Then, when they get done with the current call, they call you back. Even if you have caller ID, it will say "no data sent", as they use blocking features.
Some people have had their phone numbers changed because they thought they were being harassed by calls, when the truth is that it is just telemarketers working it so they will have the greatest ability to get people to spend money.
They are not concerned with the inconvenience to you or any other discomfort this practice may cause you.
The majority of these telemarketing calls are being dialed by a computer known as an auto dialer or predictive dialer which can dial 3-5 numbers simultaneously and can make as many as a half million calls in a single day.
If you don't answer or it gets your answering machine, your number will just be put back in the database to be called again over and over until you do.
You may get a letter or postcard saying you've won a prize or a contest. Such companies get leads from the bulk mailing of entry forms with an easy crossword and a $3-5 entry fee or from a "scratch and win" ticket.
Instructions tell you to respond to the promoter with certain information. Such leads may get a follow up call because they now know that you are prone to such gimmicks.
You'll be called by a salesperson who may use persuasive sales pitches, scare tactics, and exaggerated claims to deceive you and take your money.
When family members of elderly telemarketing fraud victims have done a search on the internet for some of the names used in the sweepstakes material, found next to piles of cancelled checks, they invariably find large corporate list management and sales firms which purport to be one thing but appear to be another.
It should be considered aiding and abetting a criminal enterprise when it is determined that commercial list managers purposely compile and then sell lists of vulnerable victims as part of their business model.
List categories by these firms are not benignly collected demographic profiling, based on product interest of everyday goods and services, but are actively generated campaigns geared, coincidentally, towards the psychological traits which scammers are seeking in their victims.
Examples of what types of lists are readily available for purchase.
5711 S. 86th Circle, Omaha, NE 68137
compiles lists of people interested in astrology from various other sources
|AMERICAN ASTROLOGY (Formerly: Horoscope Guide)|
|ASTRAL RESEARCH CREDIT CARD/TELEPHONE DATABASE|
|ASTRAL RESEARCH, INC.|
|ASTRO LUCK - ASTROLOGY BUYERS|
|ASTRO LUCK - UNITED KINGDOM ASTROLOGY BUYERS|
|BOSS COMMUNICATIONS - CANADIAN ASTROLOGICAL PRODUCT BUYERS|
|EUROPEAN PSYCHIC AGENCY (Formerly: Euro-American Astrological Product Buyers)|
|HT PUBLICATIONS - MASTERFILE|
|LLEWELLYN'S NEW WORLDS OF MIND AND SPIRIT|
|MADAME PETROVKA'S SPECIAL TAROT NUMEROLOGY BUYERS|
|NATIONAL ASTROLOGY BUYERS|
|STARPOWER ASTROLOGY BUYER|
|WU LEE ASTROLOGICAL BUYER|
Credit and Business Opportunity Seeker Lists
|AMERICAN COMPUTER INSTITUTE - BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY|
|AWARDS ADMINISTRATION - BUYERS|
|CASH PRIZE HEADQUARTERS|
|CREATIVE MONEY MAKING VENTURES|
|CREDIT CARD CONGLOMERATE - NEW CREDIT CARD HOLDERS|
|CREDIT MARKET BUYERS|
|FUTURES INVESTMENT OUTLOOK|
|HOME OFFICE OPPORTUNITY SEEKERS|
|HUNGRY FOR CREDIT|
|INSURANCE INDUSTRY INTERNET NETWORK (IIIN)|
|ITCH TO BE RICH BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY PRODUCT BUYERS|
|JUPITER MARKETING-TELEPHONE DATABASE|
|LAS VEGAS GAMBLERS|
|NETWORK MARKETING GROUP OPPORTUNITY SEEKERS|
|PROTECT YOURSELF CREDIT CARD PROTECTION BUYERS|
|R.J. PERSSON ENTERPRISES ENHANCED MASTERFILE|
|2ND CHANCE CREDIT SEEKERS|
|STOCK MARKET MANIA|
|SUCCESS MARKETING - OPPORTUNITY BOOKBUYERS|
|SUCCESS STORIES CREDIT SEEKERS|
|SUNSHINE OPPORTUNITY SEEKERS|
|TECHNOLOGY PROFESSIONALS NETWORK-TPN|
|TNT BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY RESPONDERS|
|WEALTH BUILDING OPPORTUNITY BOOKBUYERS|
|WORK AT HOME OPPORTUNISTS|
Sweepstakes and Puzzles Players
|ALL AMERICAN SWEEPSTAKES|
|AMERICAN SWEEPSTAKES MULTIBUYERS|
|AWARDS ADMINISTRATION - BUYERS|
|BEN SCOTT SWEEPSTAKES BUYERS|
|BEN SCOTT SWEEPSTAKES TELEPHONE/CC DATABASE|
|BUREAU OF CASH AWARDS|
|CASH AWARDS SWEEPSTAKES|
|CASH PRIZE HEADQUARTERS|
|CASHORAMA PUZZLE BUYERS|
|CERTIFIED CASH NOTIFICATION SWEEPSTAKES BUYERS|
|CONSUMER ENRICHMENT CENTER UNITED KINGDOM|
|CONTEST EXPRESS BUYERS|
|DOUBLE DIAMOND SWEEPSTAKES ENTRANTS|
|GAMES THE MAGAZINE FOR CREATIVE MINDS AT PLAY|
|GAMES-WORLD OF PUZZLES MAGAZINE|
|JB SALES MAGAZINE SWEEPSTAKES BUYERS|
|JUPITER MARKETING - BUYERS|
|NATIONAL CATALOG SHOPPING|
|NATIONAL PRIZE MONITOR / EPI PUZZLE BUYERS|
|NATIONAL PRIZE MONITOR / EPI PUZZLE BUYERS - PHONE / CC DATABASE|
|NATIONWIDE CLEARINGHOUSE LTD. - CREDIT CARD/TELEPHONE DATABASE|
|NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE CROSSWORD PUZZLES MAGAZINE|
|NORTH AMERICAN AWARD CENTER - CANADIAN ENTRANTS|
|NORTH AMERICAN AWARD CENTER PUZZLE ENTRANTS|
|NSA SWEEPSTAKES REPORT BUYERS|
|PACIFIC COAST PAYOUT BUYERS|
|PUBLISHERS EXCHANGE SWEEPS ENTRANTS|
|PUZZLE RAMA PLAYERS|
|RENEW 2000 SWEEPSTAKES|
|SWEEPS AND PRIZES SUPERFILE|
|SWEEPSTAKES DIRECT CREDIT CARD / TELEPHONE DATABASE|
|TIME SHARE BUYERS|
|TNT BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY RESPONDERS|
|U.S. SWEEPSTAKES DATABASE|
|WC MAGAZINES SWEEPSTAKE BUYERS|
|WESTPORT ENTERPRISES - CANADIAN
WALTER KARL DIVISION OF DONNELLEY MARKETING
One Blue Hill Plaza, Pearl River, NY 10965
Phone: (845) 620-0700 Fax: (845) 620-1056
CASHORAMA BUYERS - 102,951 at $85/thousand minimum 5,000
Formerly: Cash O Rama Puzzle Contest Players) CASHORAMA buyers enter puzzle contests, and register for a chance to win up to $10,000 in cash and prizes. They are competitive men and women who enjoy completing puzzles and the opportunity for a big "windfall". $10.00 PER ENTRY
American Donors Database
20,034,343 Households $70/thousand names minimum 5000.
Derived from individual donor files which are used to determine the type of contribution including Health, Religious, Environmental, Animal Welfare, Political and other donations. Beyond being able to select specific causes, a wealth of demographic and psychographic selections are available to support targeted campaigns.
Selections available include age, sex, date of birth, mail order buyers, phone number, credit cards.
CYSTIC FIBROSIS FOUNDATION SENIORS
These ACTIVE SENIORS are responsive donors who have contributed to appeals targeted to finding a cure for this deadly disease that affects primarily children and young adults. These active 55+ seniors have ample time and discretionary income to spend on travel and leisure activities, crafts, reading and more. $70/M selection of donation levels and sex extra.
Ages 65 - 74 194,117
Ages 75+ 200,771
THE LISTWORKS CORPORATION
1 CAMPUS DRIVE
PLEASANTVILLE, NY, 10570
TEL# (914) 769-7100
FAX# (914) 769-8070
Sells their Cash Claim Sweeps list with the following description:
THESE SWEEPSTAKES ENTHUSIASTS RESPONDED TO A CASH CLAIM NOTIFICATION FOR THE CHANCE TO WIN A SHARE OF A $50,000 SWEEPSTAKES PACKAGE.
THEY HAVE ALL SPENT $14.95 TO REGISTER FOR THE CASH AND PRIZES. OVER 60% HAVE INDICATED THEY HAVE AT LEAST ONE MAJOR BANK CREDIT CARD AND THEY ARE SELECTABLE. TELEPHONE NUMBERS ARE ALSO AVAILABLE.
THE CASH CLAIM SWEEPS LIST IS A MUST TEST FOR ALL PROMOTIONAL OFFERS INCLUDING SWEEPSTAKES, LOTTERIES, CONTESTS AS WELL AS ASTROLOGICAL, GENERAL MERCHANDISE, MAGAZINES AND MORE!!!
SOURCE: 100% DIRECT MAIL 70% FEMALE/30% MALE
Buy up to 304,634 12 MONTH BUYERS at $80.00 per thousand with a minimum order of 5,000.
They also promote:
CONTACT AMERICA's - SWEEPS HAPPY SENIORS
623,903 SENIOR SWEEPS ENTRANTS at $45.00 per thousand names
Age, Gender and Income Breakouts 45% FEMALE, 45% MALE
CONTACT AMERICA HAS IDENTIFIED THE MOST OPPORTUNISTIC "SOMETHING FOR NOTHING" SENIOR CONSUMERS AVAILABLE. THE ENTRANTS ON THIS FILE ARE THE EMBODIMENT OF CLASSIC MIDDLE-AMERICAN DREAMERS.
THESE SENIORS DON'T JUST LOOK AT EVERY PIECE OF MAIL THEY RECEIVE, THEY ABSORB THEM. A MORE READY PROMOTIONALLY ORIENTED PROSPECT YOU CANNOT FIND. IF YOUR OFFER IS PROMOTIONAL IN NATURE, THESE SENIORS WILL BE SWEPT AWAY. PHONE NUMBERS ARE AVAILABLE ALSO.
140,642 LAST 6 MONTHS $80.00 per thousand names MINIMUM ORDER:
65% FEMALE/35% MALE - SOURCE: 100% DIRECT MAIL
THESE SWEEPS LOVERS ALL FILLED OUT THE "MILLIONAIRE SWEEPSTAKES" ENTRY FORM TO BE ELIGIBLE TO WIN $1,625,000. ALL ENTRANTS ARE GUARANTEED A $1000 BONUS PACKAGE THAT CONSISTS OF DISCOUNTS FOR TRAVEL, CAR RENTALS, FILM AND ENTERTAINMENT. ABOUT 50% OF THE MILLIONAIRE SWEEPSTAKES FILE HAVE PAID $7.99 FOR RUSH DELIVERY OF THEIR BONUS PACKAGE.
THE MILLIONAIRE SWEEPSTAKES ENTRY FORM CONTAINS SEVERAL QUESTIONS AND THE RESPONSES TO THESE QUESTIONS ARE SELECTABLE. THEY ARE:
DO YOU USE MAJOR CREDIT CARDS? YES-43% NO-57%
DO YOU LIKE TO TRAVEL? YES-41% NO-59%
WOULD YOU LIKE TO RECEIVE MORE SWEEPSTAKES TO ENTER? YES-82% NO-18%
THE MILLIONAIRE SWEEPSTAKES CLUB OFFERS A UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY TO REACH HIGHLY PROMOTIONAL AND SUPER-RESPONSIVE INDIVIDUALS. THE FILE IS A NATURAL FOR SWEEPSTAKES, LOTTERIES, PUZZLES, GENERAL MERCHANDISE, MAGAZINES, TRAVEL AND MORE!!!
Promoted using the following keywords: list, lists, mailing, mailing lists, brokerage, response driven, internet lists, buyers, infomercial, phone, append, verify, telematch, tele-match, cas, cass, mailers, list management, managed lists, enhanced lists, direct mail, fulfillment, MIS services, service bureau, address correction, merge/purge, dedupe, de-dupe, ZIP+4, NCOA, area code correction, data conversion, phone appending, phone verification, credit card status, list updates, targeted lists, demographic, profiling, credit, health, diet, informercial, internet buyers, investors, opportunity seekers, psychic, sweepstakes, puzzles, telemarketing buyers, travel, mail generated, telemarketing generated, TV generated, informercial generated, space ad generated internet generated, database generated;
Listdata Computer Services has the following lists available for sale.
Cash Claim Sweeps, Mad for Sweeps, Millennium Sweeps, Millionaire Sweepstakes, Puzzle Mania, Sweeps Oriented Buyers, Travel Sweepstakes Buyers.
Broadcast and Print Advertisements
In some cases, you may make the telephone call in response to a television, newspaper or magazine ad, or a direct mail solicitation. The fact that you make the call doesn't mean the business or investment is legitimate or that you should be less cautious about buying or investing on the phone. Those who respond by calling a toll-free "800" number often get a package of materials, followed by high-pressure telephone sales pitches. Fraud investigators speculate that getting victims to call first makes the work of the schemer much easier, since the potential investor has already "bought into" the scheme by taking the first step.
Commonly known as "junk e-mail," "bulk e-mail," or "spam," unsolicited commercial messages are flooding the Internet each day, ending up on desktops everywhere. Although some of these messages are from legitimate marketers, many are fraudulent solicitations from scam artists who make promises they have no intention of keeping.
Spammers and scammers often hide and confuse their identities by obscuring their URLs.
"Leads" or prospect calling lists, which identify individuals who have entered a contest by filling out a personal data card, are often purchased by fraudulent telemarketers from "lead brokers". The data cards generally contain your name, address, phone number, and age. Usually you lead them right to you when you fill out these draw ballots or enter contests at fairs, trade shows and restaurants.
Gold Dust Memo
From: Director of Marketing
To: Chief Financial Officer
To help limit our advertising budget and sales staff it is important to target resources where they will be most effective. As an aid to our marketing efforts, in efficiently selecting prime customers, it is recommended that we take steps to institute the latest technologies in data-mining techniques. Data mining can indicate factors that help determine whether our marketing efforts will succeed.
Consumers can then be the target of increasingly sophisticated marketing campaigns which seek to address their individual weaknesses. Through the selected acquisition of established mail order and publishing enterprises, our activities will be able to generate relevant data in the normal course of business. Initial studies have shown some interesting tendencies prevalent to a significant number of existing customers.
They tend to believe what they see in print, with emphasis on the exaggerated or unbelievable, as may be found in the tabloid industry. Such a media acquisition would also reduce advertising costs. It would also be desirable to acquire the customer lists of as many infomercial, collectible item business and charities as possible, to name a few.
Data mining offers the potential to identify the preferences of specific customer groups and to indicate what sorts of promotional material most affect their purchasing habits. Similarly, identifying preferences can be used to effectively target deceptions for that group.
Unresponsive To Clients' Injunctions
The FTC filed suit (1/19/96) against Marketing Response Group, Inc. ("MRG") and two Tampa, Florida-area businessmen -- Peter J. Porcelli, Jr., and William S. Kilichowski -- and four other companies they operate: Marketing Response Group and Laser Company, Inc., Service Bureau International, Inc., Pete-Nik Holdings, Inc., and Palm Harbor Holdings, Inc. for allegedly acting with numerous telemarketers nationwide to defraud consumers with direct mail promotions that falsely promise quick land sales, guaranteed awards, and free vacations.
According to the FTC, MRG devised the promotions, created the standard mail pieces, selected the mailing lists, and then printed, addressed, and mailed the deceptive solicitations on behalf of its client-telemarketers.
Since at least 1989, the defendants have created, printed and mailed solicitations containing false representations in connection with land sales, guaranteed awards, and vacation promotions. They continued to mail these deceptive solicitations even after the FTC and numerous states brought telemarketing fraud cases against several of their clients. (ie. Fitness Express, Passport International, Pioneer Enterprises, and Nishika Corporation)
Their land sales solicitations allegedly misrepresent that buyers have contacted them with an interest in purchasing land similar to that owned by you; that they are qualified to sell real estate; and that if you call a specified number you can "sell for cash today." Consumers who call then pay several hundred dollars, but in most instances, they never sell your property.
Their guaranteed award solicitations falsely represent that you are "absolutely guaranteed" to receive one of several valuable awards, such as a car, a vacation, or a cashier's check for several thousand dollars, and that you will receive the award without obligation to pay any money.
In fact, when you call to claim your "awards," you find that you must send several hundred dollars to purchase a product or to cover shipping and handling costs in order to receive it.
Even then, when you send the money, you often never receive the promised award.
Their vacation solicitations promised you a vacation with no obligation to make a purchase or payment when in fact, you must send several hundred dollars to purchase a travel package and often must pay even more money to take your vacation.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has "reason to believe" that the law has been or is being violated, and that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendants have actually violated the law. The case will be decided by the court.
(Civil Action No. 96-111-CIV-T-17A)
(FTC File No. 922 3003)
Tips To Avoid Having Your Personal Information Acquired and Used For Scams or Identity Theft
1. Do not play, or let your child play, games or enter contests at sites which appear on candies, cereal boxes, ads in magazines, online, etc. as they often require date-of-birth, name, address, phone, e-mail, etc. for the purposes of processing and awarding.
2. Use extreme caution when putting your credit info on-line. Instead, consider using a card into which you deposit the amount of money required for your desired transactions. AAA Everyday Funds is an example of one such card.
3. Do not give social security number, account number, DOB, etc., out for ANY reason, if you can help it. While this is often unavoidable on some legitimate calls, (such as to the IRS, your doctor or your bank), do it ONLY on calls initiated by you, to numbers obtained, BY YOU, from the institution or off valid documents you KNOW are from THEM.
4. Do Not fill out surveys/questionnaires/product registration optional sections, as they are gathering personal information such as household income, credit cards possessed, family size, medical needs, buying habits, etc.
5. When signing up for something on line, registering or installing software, etc., watch out for and unclick the boxes that show up preset with a check, dot or "X" in it which offer "additional info or services". They inevitably set you up for a deluge of unwanted e-mail, plus propagate your profile info to their sites (and their associates, and theirs... and so on).
6. Try NOT to use cards tied to your bank or creditor, rather use pre-paid cards or try to use cash, to make store purchases. The purchases you make get fed into massive databases which could conceivably be used to your disadvantage.
7. Don't send off online requests for free samples, enter contests in Malls, play online gambling games, send off for "free" merchandise, or believe "You are a winner", "You have won", "You have been selected to receive", "free trial offer", "no risk/no obligation offer - cancel at any time", etc.
You may never receive anything at all, or get a cheap piece of useless merchandise, but at the very least you can rest assured that you've been entered on at least one mass-mailing list, not to mention guaranteed to be given abundant similar opportunities with more advanced scams in the future.
8. Be careful about referral and family/acquaintance list requests, which when completed offer you a bonus or prize, even from YOUR CHILD'S SCHOOL. The value is neither worth that of the collected personal data you (or you children) provide OR the time required to complete the list, not to mention the possible consequences to the unfortunate listees.
9. Don't go for the vacation/cruise package deals you get in the mail, at the mall, off the office fax, or unsolicited on the web. Your package will not be what it was presented to be, have numerous restrictions and obligations and your cost will ultimately be higher than if you had purchased it normally through a reputable agency.
More Information on Identity Theft
Iowa Seizes 'Sucker List' Mail Responses
By: Scott Hovanyetz
Senior Reporter - dmnews.com 12/15/03
The Iowa attorney general's office seized 7,000 pieces of mail last week that it claimed were responses to a fraudulent sweepstakes solicitation campaign conducted by mail and telemarketing.
Acting on an impound order from a county judge, authorities took the mail Thursday from a commercial mail drop in Clive, IA. According to the attorney general, the mailers were sent in response to a mass-mail solicitation aimed at developing a "sucker list" of elderly consumers to be targeted later in a telemarketing fraud scheme.
Richard James Panas of Rock Hill, SC, arranged for the mailers to be brought to the commercial drop in mid-November, the attorney general said. The commercial drop cooperated with the investigation and was not charged.
According to the attorney general, the mailers misled consumers into believing they had won substantial prizes but had to pay "administration" or "pre-processing" fees of $10 or $20.
While those solicitations alone are illegal, the goal of the campaign was to develop a list of consumers likely to fall prey to similar telemarketing prize schemes that could cost them up to $5,000, the attorney general said.
A call to Panas' list and direct mail business, R.P. Associates, was not returned Friday. Panas is under federal investigation and is wanted for arrest in Nevada, according to the attorney general.
Among the lists on the rpassociates.com Web sites are several of sweepstakes and prize-promotion participants. One ad for a list titled "Avalanche of Checks" described consumers on the list as "sweepstakes enthusiasts" who responded to an offer of up to $10,000 in prizes guaranteed to all participants and who also sent a $9.95 "acquisition fee to receive a family collection of discount certificates with a fully redeemable value of over $2,000."
Mooch Lists Make Money... for the scammers.
"Mooch lists" can contain a disturbing amount of personal information about past victims —full name, address, phone number, even bank-card numbers and the amount they've spent on previous scams.
Some lists even rank victims based on their perceived vulnerability. Others might include helpful scamming tips: "Mention religion. This person loves Jesus! "
People on these lists have been victimized at least once by a telemarketing scam and are susceptible to being victimized again. A list used in a reverse boiler-room event included people who had lost a few dollars up to more than $30,000.
Elderly Victims on Lottery Scam Sucker Lists
08/07 - Nebraska - Every day envelopes pour into Mary Peters’ mailbox from all over the world and they all come with guarantees of big lottery winnings.
Peters, 88, receives about 6-10 promises that she has won a foreign lottery every time her mail is delivered. She said she has received as many as 18 in a single day.
“They never stop,” Peters said. She has collected several boxes of the offers.
Peters’ name and address of the home where she has lived for nearly 60 years is on a “sucker’s list.” Since she responded to an offer several years ago, the mailings have increased ten-fold.
People who respond to telemarketing fraud or sweepstakes mailers are often placed on a sucker list. Sucker lists, which include names, addresses, phone numbers and other information, are created, bought and sold by fraudulent mailers and telemarketers. The lists are considered invaluable because dishonest promoters know that consumers who have been tricked once are likely to be tricked again. It’s called “reloading.”
As a result, people on the sucker list become flooded with letters, e-mails and phone calls with various offers – lottery wins, investment plans, get rich schemes and work from home offers.
And once they start, it’s difficult to make them stop.
Fritz Dodson, Peters’ brother, began collecting the bundles of offers and trying to find out how to get them to stop coming to his sister’s address.
“We reported it to the police and they weren’t too interested,” Dodson said. “I reported them to Attorney General Jon Bruning and all I got back was a calendar and a letter that said, ‘don’t get duped.’”
Lt. Rick Ryan of the North Platte police said they get 4-5 calls from people about the lottery and sweepstakes offers every single week.
“They’re almost all generated from outside the U.S. to avoid prosecution,” Ryan said. “They look like they come from official U.S. banks or businesses but they don’t.”
Ryan said any offer that requires you to send money is not a legitimate one.
“Do not send money or a fee to these places,” Ryan said. “If they ask for money or information, it’s a scam.”
Most of the offers include a realistic looking check, some claim to be “certified.” But the checks are well-disguised frauds and bounce when deposited or cashed.
Richard S. Bialek of North Platte says his misguided faith in a lottery offer could land him in jail.
Bialek, 28, received what he believed was a lottery check from the USA Mega Jackpots in the mail and took it to the Bank of Stapleton in North Platte where he had his account.
A letter accompanying the check said Bialek had won $175,000. The letter told Bialek to keep his winnings confidential and send USA Mega Jackpots $3,500 to cover the “insurance/processing” fee required before the “big funds” would be remitted to him.
On May 21, Bialek deposited the check in his account and immediately took out $1,000. He said the bank verified the check before he deposited it.
Later, Bialek and his wife spent the other $2,500 on a down payment for a trailer house.
When the fraudulent cashier’s check was returned to the bank several weeks later, Bialek said he couldn’t repay it.
“I offered to give the bank titles to all my vehicles as security so I could repay the money,” Bialek said. “But they wouldn’t accept them.”
The bank turned the check over to the Lincoln County Attorney’s office. He was cited by the North Platte police for felony theft by deception and must appear in court August 17. He could face a maximum five-years imprisonment if convicted.
Ryan said an investigator cited Bialek because he believed Bialek knew the check was fraudulent.
Bialek, an apprentice electrician, maintains he is a victim of the fraud and trusted the bank to know whether or not the check was legitimate. He said he intends to fight the charge in court.
“The bank gave us $1,000 immediately,” Bialek said. “If they can’t tell the difference, how can I?”
“These scammers depend on people getting greedy,” Ryan said. “When they receive a big check, people sometimes let greed overtake their common sense.”
Lindee Doyle, a personal banker at Wells Fargo, encourages anyone who wonders if a check they received in the mail is legitimate to talk to their banker.
“If the check is deposited and it turns out to be counterfeit, that amount of money will be removed from their account,” Doyle said. “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”
Doyle said the scams seem to come in waves but regular customers do bring in sweepstakes checks that are fraudulent.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, it’s illegal for any foreign lottery – legitimate or not – to use the U.S. mail to solicit customers. In the last year alone the post office has gone to court to shut down 39 different lottery schemes and destroyed 800,000 of the phony offers that were headed into this country.
Meanwhile, the postal service advises consumers not to throw these letters away. They are following the paper trail and say if you get one, give it right back to your mailman.
Dodson would like to see more done with these fraudulent mailings by law enforcement and postal officials. He believes they prey on the elderly who, sometimes, are trust too much.
“It’s not enough to just throw these fake offers away,” Dodson said. “They need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The North Platte Bulletin