Copyright 2011 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Congratulations -- you've won a prize!
More people reported falling victim to phony prize and sweepstakes awards than any other type of scam last year, the National Consumers League reports.
Prize and sweepstakes scams accounted for 27 percent of complaints to the consumer group's fraud center in 2011, edging out fake check schemes, which claimed the list's top spot in 2010.
Typically, victims were duped over the phone by con artists persuading them to pay processing charges, taxes, shipping and handling or some other fee to collect nonexistent prizes or winnings, the National Consumers League said.
"The prizes and sweepstakes are bogus, and once the victim sends the money, they get nothing in return," the consumer group said.
In general, scammers pressure people to wire money through companies such as Western Union because sending it that way is like sending cash.
"Consumers should be wary of any offer that requires wiring of money," the consumer group said.
Among the top two reported scams, thieves appeared to have targeted different age groups. Consumers older than 65 were much more likely to complain about prize and sweepstakes fraud: 60.1 percent vs. 27 percent of the overall population.
Consumers ages 18 to 25 were more apt to fall for fake check scams, which accounted for 45.7 percent of complaints in that age group vs. 26.7 percent overall. In a typical fake check scheme, victims are ensnared with bogus mystery shopper or work-at-home jobs. To get paid, they are asked to cash a phony check and wire a portion of the proceeds back to the scammer. When the check bounces, victims are out the money.
New to this year's top 10 scams list was the family/friend imposter, also known as the grandparent scam. It ranked ninth among most reported fraud.
In it, a con artist poses over the phone as a loved one who has been hurt or arrested, or in some cases poses as a lawyer or law enforcement agent representing a loved one. The caller convinces the victim to send money quickly to pay for hospital treatment, lawyer fees, bail or other emergency expenses. Anyone who receives such as call should hang up and call the loved one to confirm that the emergency is real, experts say.
For more on the top scams or to report a suspected fraud, visit the National Consumers League fraud center at www.fraud.org.
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)
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Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.