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how can i avoid sweepstakes scams?

Asked by an anonymous Tumblr user.

A recent research poll showed that more than half of all American adults entered sweepstakes within the past year - most of which were legitimate and law-abiding. However, con artists try to capitalize on the popularity of these offers by disguising their illegal schemes.

The Federal Trade Commission receives thousands of complaints each year from consumers about gifts, sweepstakes, and prize promotions. You can protect yourself by recognizing the differences between legitimate sweepstakes and fraudulent ones:

  • Prizes in legitimate contests are awarded solely by chance. Contestants don’t have to pay a fee or buy something to enter or increase their odds of winning.
  • In fraudulent schemes, “winners” almost always have to pay to enter a contest or collect their “prize,” if they get a prize at all. Requiring a fee to enter is illegal.

Fraudulent sweepstakes promotions often show up through telemarketer calls, e-mails, or in the mail. You can reduce your chance of receiving these notifications by registering for the National Do Not Call Registry and by having your name removed from direct mail and e-mail marketing lists.

Learn your rights under the law when it comes to sweepstakes and find more ways to protect yourself.

Tax Refund Thefts On The Rise

You’re not the only one waiting for your tax refund. Scammers are looking for it too. In fact, every year there are more and more scams designed to steal tax refunds.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says these kinds of thefts have increased substantially in the last few years. Between 2010 and 2012, the number of investigations opened by the IRS grew from 224 to 898, according to the latest figures.

Find out more about tax refund scams, how to protect yourself from identity theft and what to do if you are a victim.

It All Starts with Identity Theft

Tax refund thefts usually begin when someone steals your personal information, such as your Social Security number. This is called identity theft.

To get your information, scammers use a technique called phishing, where a scammer tries to fool you into revealing your personal data.

This is how it works:

  • They send you fake e-mail messages or websites pretending to be someone they’re not, such as the IRS or the Social Security Administration.
  • They ask you to provide your personal or financial information such as your Social Security number or your credit card numbers.

Once they have the information they need, they file your taxes in your name and wait until they get your refund.

How to Protect Yourself

This is what you can do to protect yourself from this scam:

  • The IRS does not initiate contact via e-mail with issues regarding your tax return.
  • Be careful with websites that pretend to be the IRS. The official IRS website is http://www.irs.gov/
  • If somebody calls you and says they are an employee of the IRS, take down their employee identification number and call 1-800-829-1040 to make sure the call is legitimate.
  • Do not provide your Social Security number or other personal information to anybody you consider suspicious.

What to Do If You Are a Victim

Many taxpayers find out they’ve are victims of tax refund scams when they get a letter from the IRS saying their taxes have been filed twice. If you get such a letter, contact the IRS immediately to try to correct the situation.

You can find out the status of your tax return by visiting the official IRS website. You will be asked to provide personal information such as your Social Security number and the amount of your expected tax return.

If you would like assistance or would like to report identity theft, contact the IRS or call 1-800-908-4490.

Don’t Get Ripped Off by Fraudulent Health Products

Scammers have been selling fake health products for hundreds of years. They will promise everything from weight loss to a cure for cancer in exchange for your money. These scams aren’t only a waste of money, they can be dangerous. Unproven medical treatments can be damaging to your health and even deadly.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers these 6 tips to spot fake health products:

  • One product does it all. Be suspicious of products that claim to cure a wide range of diseases. A New York firm claimed its products marketed as dietary supplements could treat or cure senile dementia, brain atrophy, atherosclerosis, kidney dysfunction, gangrene, depression, osteoarthritis, dysuria, and lung, cervical and prostate cancer. In October 2012, at FDA’s request, U.S. marshals seized these products.
  • Personal testimonials. Success stories, such as, “It cured my diabetes” or “My tumors are gone,” are easy to make up and are not a substitute for scientific evidence.
  • Quick fixes. Few diseases or conditions can be treated quickly, even with legitimate products. Beware of language such as, “Lose 30 pounds in 30 days” or “eliminates skin cancer in days.”
  • “All natural.” Some plants found in nature (such as poisonous mushrooms) can kill when consumed. Moreover, FDA has found numerous products promoted as “all natural” but that contain hidden and dangerously high doses of prescription drug ingredients or even untested active artificial ingredients.
  • “Miracle cure.” Alarms should go off when you see this claim or others like it such as, “new discovery,” “scientific breakthrough” or “secret ingredient.” If a real cure for a serious disease were discovered, it would be widely reported through the media and prescribed by health professionals—not buried in print ads, TV infomercials or on Internet sites.
  • Conspiracy theories. Claims like “The pharmaceutical industry and the government are working together to hide information about a miracle cure” are always untrue and unfounded. These statements are used to distract consumers from the obvious, common-sense questions about the so-called miracle cure.

Learn more about fraudulent health products.

Don’t Be a Victim of Internet Dating Scams

Internet dating and romance scams, commonly called “sweetheart scams,” target people with online dating profiles or through social media networks, and are becoming more common. The Internet makes it easy for people to create fake identities, using other people’s pictures to pretend they are attractive and interested in you.

After a bond has been formed, the scammer will typically ask to borrow money, either for a travel expense to come visit, or because of an “emergency” to one of their family members or even to themselves.

The State Department offers these tips on how to recognize sweetheart scams:

  • The scammer and the victim meet online – often through Internet dating or employment sites.
  • The scammer asks for money to get out of a bad situation or to provide a service.
  • Photographs that the scammer sends of “him/herself” show a very attractive person. The photo appears to have been taken at a professional modeling agency or photographic studio.
  • The scammer has incredibly bad luck— often getting into car crashes, arrested, mugged, beaten, or hospitalized — usually all within the course of a couple of months. They often claim that their key family members (parents and siblings) are dead. Sometimes, the scammer claims to have an accompanying child overseas who is very sick or has been in an accident.
  • The scammer claims to be a native-born American citizen, but uses poor grammar indicative of a non-native English speaker. Sometimes the scammer will use eloquent romantic language that is plagiarized from the Internet.

The FBI also offers additional advice on dealing with sweetheart scams. You can report Internet scams to www.ic3.gov.

Learn more about sweetheart scams and how to avoid them.

Warning for Small Businesses: Don’t Open E-mail Falsely Claiming to be From FTC

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning small businesses that an e-mail with a subject line “NOTIFICATION OF CONSUMER COMPLAINT” is not from the FTC. The e-mail falsely states that a complaint has been filed with the agency against their company.

The FTC advises recipients not to click on any of the links or attachments with the e-mail. Clicking on the links may install a virus or other spyware on the computer. The FTC’s advice is to delete the email.

Learn more about how to prevent malicious software (malware).