This is a “good news/bad news/bad,bad news/even better good news” privacy update.

  • What’s the good news?  The good news is that people do trust government agencies.
  • What’s the bad news?  Crooks know that and use fake government agency names to lure us into believing we’ve won a prize from a governmental agency.
  • What’s the bad, bad news? People who believe this end up losing money and giving private personal information over to the crooks — private information that crooks can continue to misuse.
  • What’s the even better good news?  The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) just shut down some major players in the “pay for your prize” scam world.

What was their nasty scam?  Several individuals, using multiple companies, sent out dozens of versions personalized mailers.  The mailers used fake government agency names and some even had official-looking government seals. The mailer said, “Your identification as recipient for reported cash award entitlements totaling over $2,500,000.00 has been confirmed!”

For just $20.00, the “winner” would be sent the prize cash award.  Per the FTC, the scammers conned hundreds of thousands of people who did believe this was a legit government award.  You know the punch line — all they got was lost money and private financial information.

The FTC settlement:

  • bars these scammers from the phony prize business;
  • orders that they don’t sell or otherwise benefit from the customers’ personal information; and
  • requires them to properly dispose of all the personal information they had collected.

“FTC Settlement Bars Swindlers from Prize Promotion Business –Scammers Posed as Government Agencies and Duped Customers into Paying for Bogus Prizes”; http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2012/04/prizeinfo.shtm.

The scammers are, sadly, very good at what they do — so it’s hard to know when they’re using a fake agency name and/or official-looking governmental seal on their come-ons.  The FTC website announcing this settlement also has other excellent articles about tips for spotting scammers posing as family, friends and government agencies.

The “take aways” are: we all need to be vigilant when receiving “official looking” information; and legitimate sweepstakes or prize awards do not require us to pay or buy anything in order to get our prize.