By JOEL CUTHBERT, OBSERVER Staff Writer
You might think it's your lucky day, but think again, you may have drawn the winning ticket in a new sweepstakes scam.
Money scams are old news. However, a new scam - promoted as the North American Shoppers Sweepstakes - is targeting area residents by issuing checks through Star Capital Securities Inc., of Des Peres, Mo., in an attempt to bilk recipients out of their hard-earned cash.
As part of the fraud, potential victims are mailed a check in the amount of $4,875 and a notice informing them they have been "declared winner of North American Shoppers Sweepstakes held on March 5, 2008 in the 2nd category," listing ticket serial and winning numbers as verification.
The notice states the recipient is entitled to a total award of $125,000 of the $5 million shared among and presented to 40 other 2nd category winners selected through a random computer ballot system.
However, according to the notice, recipients are required to pay $2,975 in government taxes in order to receive their full award, the remainder of which - after taxes - would be $120,125.
"To expedite the processing, enclosed is a check in the amount of $4,875 U.S. dollars, which is part of your winning being sent to you," the notice states. "The sole purpose of this check is to enable you to pay for the applicable government taxes on your big winning. The tax amount is $2,975 ... This amount is to be paid either by Moneygram or Western Union directly to the tax agent."
The notice then provided the name and number of a claims agent to be contacted for further information regarding the procedure for claiming the full award amount.
Fredonia resident Eugene Mooney contacted the OBSERVER after receiving such an award letter and check. According to a representative from the issuing agency, Mooney said, his name had been selected based on recent purchases at Wal-Mart and Home Depot.
"I wasn't too excited from the beginning because some things just didn't sound right," he explained.
Suspicious from the start, Mooney said he brought the check to the Lake Shore Savings Bank in Fredonia where bank officials confirmed the check was not valid. When contacted later, representatives from Lake Shore Savings Bank could not provide further information on the sweepstakes scam.
In addition, Mooney said he contacted the bank where the check was allegedly issued through - Commerce Bank, of Lebanon, Mo., - and which appeared at the top of the check and was told it was bogus as well.
He also said he spoke with an assistant manager at Home Depot who knew nothing about any such sweepstakes program involving recent customers.
Trooper Malcolm Cully, with the New York State Police in Fredonia, said these types of scams are extremely common, but added the chances of the perpetrators being brought to justice if an individual is scammed out of money is unlikely.
"We deal with these sorts of scams quite frequently," he explained. "We just advise people not to (send any money) ... If they get something, report it and, obviously, don't send any money and don't cash any checks."
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