Protect yourself against award scams

Everyone loves to be a winner. Many people enter sweepstakes, contests, and lotteries hoping to win an extravagant prize – from luxury vehicles to exotic vacations. The problem with some of these seemingly good opportunities is that not all that glitters is gold.

I recently received a blue postcard in the mail claiming I won my choice of a Mercedes, $49,000 in cash, or a cruise for two to the Bahamas. The problem is I never entered any contests or signed up to win anything.

Many of these scams want you send them something first. The next thing you know you’ve lost much of your savings and the scammers are enjoying that dream vacation they promised you.

I actually called the number on the blue postcard because I was curious as to what type of information they would try to get me to divulge. I found that this was an attempt to sell me a timeshare. When I asked how they got my address, the sales rep said I signed up at a mall kiosk. When I pressed for more details she couldn’t give me the exact information.

There are all kinds of rewards scams out there. Have you ever heard of the Russian lottery scam? Americans are contacted by phone and informed they are winners of the lottery in Russia, but they must send in $1,000 first.

While some scams may not be as obvious as this, following are a few things every consumer should know about scams:

  • Many scams disguise themselves as legitimate businesses. Do your homework to determine if a business is honest and fair.
  • Legitimate companies will have you signed an affidavit before claiming your prize.
  • If you didn’t sign up for anything, more than likely you didn’t win anything.
  • Be wary if there’s high pressure to act now.
  • Federal law forbids American citizens from entering a foreign lottery.
  • Many scammers are very convincing and sound professional.
  • The most important thing to remember is: You shoudn't have to pay to win or to receive a prize!

Just remember what my grandpa always says: “What does a dishonest man look like? The same as an honest man.”

Renee McGruder is a former communications coordinator and grant writer at MMI.