The Federal Trade Commission (chief consumer protection agency of the U.S. government) has an alert on file warning consumers of sweepstakes scammers posing as government officials who would claim that their prey had won a prize, then ask for money in order to send it. The scammers would end up being the only ones to receive any money, and the would-be prize winner would be holding the bill. The alert goes on further to state several timeless ways that these scams can be avoided.
#1 Don't pay to collect sweepstakes winnings
If you are required to pay anything, then pass it by. Legitimate sweepstakes won't ask you to pay anything in order to receive your prize. Some promotional contests do ask for a shipping and handling fee... however, in the end, it is more often than not, a lot of red tape and extra fees which could end you up with nothing.
#2 Hold on to your money
Scammers will sometimes ask you to wire them money, or to overnight them a check or money order for quick delivery of your prize. No, no, no. These are not legitimate tactics. True sweepstakes sponsors want you to have a wonderful experience with their company and product, which does not include asking you to pay for their promotion in any way.
#3 Look-alikes aren't the real thing
If it looks, smells, and feels like an orange, then go ahead and eat it. However, in the sweepstakes realm, just because someone says your prize is insured doesn't necessarily ensure its delivery. Phonies can give false appearances, sometimes posing as being insured by a legitimate agency... which generally doesn't mean anything at all. So, don't let it lull you into a false sense of security.
#4 Phone numbers can deceive
Don't rely on your caller id to be a totally reliable source of information. Internet technology can allow scam artists to "disguise" their phone number so you won't know where they are calling from. Someone could have a number from Washington, D.C. show up on your telephone when they are really calling you from Siberia.
#5 Take control of the calls you receive
Place your telephone number on the do not call registry at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 1-888-382-1222 to help reduce the amount of unwanted phone calls.
#6 File a complaint with the FTC
If you feel you have received a suspicious winning phone call, you can file a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov, or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP. If possible, include the date and time of the call along with the name and/or telephone number of the organization that called you. Even if it is a phony number, enforcement officials may still be able to track it.