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Crooks Try Bold Scam Impersonating U.S. Consumer Watchdog

It takes a lot of chutzpah to invoke the name of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as part of your scam. But if your goal is to steal money from people, why worry about telling a few more lies?

The FTC (the real one) just issued a scam alert about a letter that takes the commission's name in vain. It appears to be from a lawyer in California who says the FTC, which is the government's consumer watchdog, appointed him to help you claim a $2.5 million sweepstakes prize that you forfeited.

To prove this is legit, the mailing includes a letter (it's a fake) from FTC Commissioner Joshua Wright asking the law firm to do this work for the government.

"The letter goes on to say that you can claim the prize yourself, but if you pay us a nominal amount, which is several thousand dollars, we can do it for you cheaper and faster," explained Dotan Weinman, a senior attorney at the FTC.

This is the second such FTC "imposter" letter landing in mailboxes across the country this month. The first one was made to look like it was sent by Jessica Rich, head of the FTC's consumer protection division. It even used an official-looking FTC seal. This one asked for more than $5,000 for a "legal registration bond" to help ensure delivery of the prize money.

Here's the bottom line:

  • The FTC does not give out sweepstakes prizes.
  • No federal agency will ever ask you for money to claim a prize.
  • If an FTC investigation does result in refunds, you will be contacted and you will never have to pay any money.
  • If you ever enter and win a legitimate contest, you will not be asked to pay for insurance, taxes, shipping charges or any other fee to collect your prize. If they want money - it's a scam.

The FTC has information on its website about government imposter scams and prize scams.

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IN-DEPTH

-- Herb Weisbaum