RIDGEFIELD, Conn. -- Earlier this month, a local resident received a letter and a check for nearly half a million dollars, claiming to be from the Multi-State Lottery Association, the Ridgefield Police Department recently noted. But it was clearly a scam.
As the police explained, "The letter requests that the recipient call the listed telephone number and speak with the claims representative. The representative would then request that the recipient wire money to cover 'insurance fees' for his or her winnings. The letter/check recipient would lose the money that they wired and the check that was sent to them is worthless."
While the Multi-State Lottery Association is a real organization -- it's the member organization for the 33 states that together run lotteries like Powerball and Mega Millions -- the "5 Million Dollars Cash splash-Giveaway Promotion" is not one of its games.
"Remember that if it sounds to good to be true, it is," the police noted. In this case, this scam target didn't fall for it.
The Multi-State Lottery Association directed questions to Randy Miller, who is its Powerball Group Chair.
Miller was very clear about how to tell when things are a scam, whether by letter, phone or otherwise: "Lotteries do not contact winners. It's the winner's responsibility to contact the lottery when you've won a prize."
He also agreed that lotteries don't pick people at random, to send money to. "If you didn't buy a lottery ticket, you didn't win a prize," he added.
Miller also verified that actual winners never have to pay fees up front, to claim their prizes.
Another trademark of scams is spelling and other errors. In the letter the Ridgefield resident received, note the bad capitalization in the fake promotion's name. Also, Reader's Digest -- which isn't even associated with the lottery -- lacked its apostrophe, and the authors added a "The" to Publishers Clearing House which isn't part of its name.
According a Reader's Digest's FAQ, while the company does have sweepstakes, "there is never any fee associated with winning. Reader's Digest will never request that you wire or pay any amount of money in order to claim a prize. Reader's Digest will never send you a check to cover fees, taxes or costs. ... This is a sure sign of a scam.
Publishers Clearing House also explicitly warns about check scams: "The check is fake, but the scam is real." That company summarizes it this way: "A legitimate sweepstakes will never ask you to send money to enter a sweepstakes, claim a prize, or to pay a fee, tax or deposit."
For more information about the wide array of scams, and ways to protect yourself, visit the Federal Trade Commission's website.