BBB: Lottery scam lures with 'Mega Millions'

Watch out for calls from 876 area code

LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. - "You've won millions!"  That's the bait from the latest Jamaican lottery scam hitting the Northwest, the Better Business Bureau warned Wednesday.

The caller tells the "winner" all he needs to do is pay a few thousand dollars in taxes and fees then the Mega Millions Jackpot is his to keep.  The problem is, once the victim pays up, the caller will take the money and run.

Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington warns the public to beware of calls from area code 876. 

The caller often claims to be a lottery official from Jamaica and explains the only way the "winner" can collect is to first pay taxes via a prepaid debit card.  The scammer then asks for the card information and pin and drains the account before disappearing.

The Jamaican lottery scam has already cost consumers hundreds of thousands of dollars, sparking alerts from both the Federal Trade Commission and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.  Some victims even report being threatened with physical harm if they don't agree to pay the fees.

Homer, an 80-year-old resident of Vancouver, Wash., said he almost became a victim of a similar scam from a European sweepstakes that offered him thousands of dollars, but he was sharp enough to not fall for it. 

"If it's too good to be true, it probably is," he said.

In the Pacific Northwest this year, BBB has received 74 complaints of lottery and sweepstakes scams.  BBB reminds consumers to follow four important steps in order to avoid falling victim.

  1. Enter to win. Participants need to buy a ticket or complete an application in order to win a contest or lottery.  "Winners" should be especially careful if they never entered a contest.
  2. Verify first. Check if an offer is real, but don't call the phone number in the email or website of the alleged contest.  If it is a trick, chances are the person on the other line will be involved, too.  Consumers can call BBB for assistance.
  3. Don't pay for the prize.  Winners should never have to pay money or buy products in order to receive a prize.  Be especially wary of wiring money or using a prepaid debit card.
  4. Join the "do not call list."  Sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry.  This won't stop scams entirely, but it can help reduce the number of unwanted calls you receive.

To find out more about scams or to report one, check out BBB Scam Stopper and stay connected online at BBB's Social Hub.

Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington is one of 113 in North America and the largest BBB by geographical service area. BBB is a neutral not-for-profit public reporting agency committed to trust in the marketplace. For more information on ethical business standards and BBB Accreditation, or to access free BBB Business Reviews, Charity Reviews, scam alerts or find local event information, contact BBB or visit bbb.org.

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