BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - Sweepstakes mailings are hard to dismiss it out of hand, especially if you've seen commercials on TV featuring actual winners shouting for joy.
But only a tiny fraction of these contests you receive in the mail are legit, and playing along can turn into a nightmare.
A Southtowns woman suspected the claims of big money were too good to be true, but scammers knew how to suck her in. It has drained her financially, she has a huge pile of useless mail and her phone is ringing all the time.
"Dede," as we'll call this woman, is too embarrassed to go on camera. She was adamant when the callers asked for money to cover taxes - or shipping charges - or insurance. But Dede dropped her guard when the scammer gave her an account number to pay off one of her credit cards that was maxed out.
"I mean, this thing has just gotten so out of hand. I got lost in it," Dede said. "This way you are really not losing anything, and you will see when the charge account is paid off - you can see for yourself - and then you can send me money."
The credit card was paid off, Dede sent the money and started using her card. She then learned that the account she used was closed and now her other accounts are constantly overdrawn. Dede worries her identity might have been stolen.
"It has made me so upset, I don't sleep at night. My husband and I can't believe how far this has gotten," Dede said.
Peggy Penders of the Better Business Bureau told News 4 the sweepstakes business has become so massive it is on their list of Top 10 Scams. For any legitimate contest, once you enter, you should not have to pay anything to get your prize.
"We get calls about sweepstakes nearly everyday. Folks really want to believe that this opportunity is true," Penders said. "Any fees at all should not be required if you are the winner. That should be a red flag. After all, if you have won free-and-clear, you should receive that item without any strings attached."
If you do win a jackpot, the taxes and any fees or charges can be deducted from your winnings, not paid out of pocket. If the taxes are not deducted, that is between you and the IRS - they are no one else's business.
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