A 99-year-old Santa Clara County resident recently received what appeared to be a spectacular windfall. An email claiming to come from the U.S. Department of Treasury said he had won a sweepstakes for $150 million — plus $10,000 each week for the rest of his life.
With age comes wisdom, at least for this gentleman. He called the District Attorney’s Consumer Mediation Unit.
The suspicious clues:
- The first sentence quoted three questionable sources: Department of Treasury, The American Cash Awards Inc, a private company located in Georgia with an “F” rating from the Better Business Bureau, and The Inland Revenue Services, which was a former British tax collection agency. Governmental agencies do not give away millions of dollars in sweepstakes, and British agencies do not conduct prize giveaways in the U.S.
- The email claims that the senior recipient is a “noble citizen” — a flattering, if nonsensical designation — who is entitled to exemptions from California law.
- The email requests the recipient, in order to be paid, send pictures of his bank statement, his driver’s license, and his social security card, as well as a copy of his latest phone bill. These are the red flags of almost all email or phone-based financial scams.
Here’s what you should do, if you receive similar “good news”:
- Never give out any personal or financial information to someone who calls you, since you really do not know with whom you are speaking. The phone number showing on your Caller ID can easily be manipulated.
- If you did not enter a sweepstakes, or if you did not buy a lottery ticket, you cannot win. If you truly won a prize, under California law, you are only required to pay reasonable shipping and handling.
- Forward this type of email to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov. For more information, you are welcome to call the Consumer Mediation Unit at 408-792-2880.