Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin is alerting consumers of an aggressive scam believed to be targeting elderly residents of Rhode Island involving fraudulent sweepstakes in which the senior is sent a fraudulent check to offset "processing fees" associated with the sweepstakes.
An elderly parent of an employee of the Office of Attorney General received two such notifications in less than one week. One letter was mailed from South Africa from the "Unity Financial Company" indicating the senior won $250,000, with an enclosed fraudulent check for $3,950 to help offset the "processing fee" associated with the sweepstakes. The letter requests the processing fee be paid by money transfer.
A second letter, accompanied with another fraudulent check, was mailed from South Carolina under the company letterhead of "T.I. Inc." of Syracuse, New York indicating the consumer had won nearly $900,000 in the "Supermarket Customer Sweepstakes Raffle Draw," and only had to pay the processing fee to claim his prize.
In order for the scam to work, the "targets" deposit the fraudulent check, withdraw the amount of the "processing fee" from their accounts and then wire it to the scam artists. It is only when the bank notifies the customer that the check bounced or is fraudulent does the individual become aware they have been a victim of the scam. The money is gone and typically the bank will charge an additional fee for the bounced/fraudulent check.
"While international lottery and sweepstakes are some of the most common scams perpetuated, they are becoming more aggressive and more difficult to spot," said Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin. "Including what appears to be a legitimate check in with the notification letter lures individuals into thinking it is real, only for them to be left on the hook for thousands of dollars and fees."
Here are some of the best ways to protect yourself or a senior relative from these counterfeit sweepstakes or check scams:
• Throw away any offer asking you to pay for a prize or a gift or to pay to process a prize or gift. If it's free or a gift, you shouldn't have to pay for it. Free is free.
• Never agree to deposit a check from someone you don't know. The check will bounce, and you'll owe your bank the money you withdrew. By law, banks must make the funds from deposited checks available within a day or two, but it can take weeks to uncover a counterfeit check. It may seem that the check has cleared and that the money is in your account, but you're responsible for the checks you deposit. If a check turns out to be a fake, you owe the bank the money you withdrew based on that check.
• Never wire money someone you don't know. Wiring money is like sending cash; you can't trace it – and once it's sent, you can't get it back.
"For children of senior parents, it is important to be aware of the types of phone and mail solicitations and scams they are receiving and to educate parents on how to spot a scam before it's too late," added Kilmartin.
The Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection Unit investigates and mediates consumer complaints concerning unfair and unlawful business practices and misleading advertising arising out of alleged violations of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act. If groups of people are victimized by a deceptive trade practice, this office may file in the Superior Court a civil investigative demand, which is a formal investigation. In appropriate cases, a lawsuit to stop the illegal business practice may be initiated.
Apart from carrying out its statutory responsibilities, the Unit also provides information and referral services to the general public. Consumers are directed to the appropriate governmental or private agencies for help in answering specialized questions or resolving disputes that are not within the Unit's jurisdiction.
The Consumer Protection Unit is available to speak to community groups on how to prevent being a victim of identity theft and other scams. For more information, please visit www.riag.ri.gov or call (401) 274-4400.