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Susan Tompor: Sweepstakes scam warning: Consumer watchdog isn't confirming that you won a prize

Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Elderly consumers may be targeted, for example, because they could have a good deal in savings -- money that could easily be wired to take care of "upfront taxes" on a sweepstakes prize.

In some cases, authorities report that scammers say their company represents the federal government. The "winner" must wire or transfer a sum of money to a cover tax or surcharge to claim the prize.

Some times, scammers pretend to be from "Publishers Clearing House." A few years ago, I wrote about a call my sister received claiming she won $3.5 million. All she had to do was pay $99.99 via a wire transfer within the next 45 minutes.

Now, it appears, the scammers promising the big sweepstakes cash want to trick you by claiming to be someone you'd likely trust, too.

"While it's true that I lead the CFPB's Office for Older Americans, I do not have access to lists or records of sweepstakes winners, nor do my colleagues," Canan wrote in an online blog.

Canan told me that she first heard of scammers using her name in late December when she got a call from an attorney in New Jersey who said his clients were trying to confirm that they won a sweepstakes.

A lot of people were contacting the couple to offer proof that they had won -- and they should wire money in advance to cover the taxes. They were told that someone from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau could confirm the prize.

Then, early this year, the real Canan received a phone call from the man from Washington state.

"He said, 'Do you remember talking with me?'"

He then went on to tell Canan that he had talked with her on the phone several times. She told him the prize was legitimate, he said. He had talked with attorneys, brokers and others, too, before agreeing to wire the money for the taxes.


When he didn't get the prize money, he called some of the phone numbers for those experts. All the numbers were disconnected. So he went online, found her name and was happy to discover that she really was real.

"I said 'Yes, I know I'm real. But unfortunately, the person you talked to was not me,'" she said.

"It was a very hard conversation to have with him," Canan said.

About The Writer

Susan Tompor is the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at

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