An advanced fee sweepstake is a kind of sweepstakes where an individual has to pay a fee before receiving some kind of gift or prize. Advance fee sweepstakes schemes can work in a variety of different ways, but typically involve an individual committing criminal fraud.
The targeted victim is often contacted through either email, phone, or mail with a message that announces that the individual has won a prize and needs to claim the prize. One of the most common types of advanced fee sweepstakes scams is the lottery scam. In a lottery scam, the targeted victim is told that they have won a prize through a lottery, but need to pay a fee for the prize to be delivered to them.
What Is Criminal Fraud?
Criminal fraud is a crime that involves a scheme to cheat or deceive another person or business entity in order to obtain some sort of financial gain. Criminal fraud is generally considered a white collar crime.
According to criminal fraud law, any action that is intended to deceive another individual or company through a false representation of facts that results in legal detriment to the individual who relied on the information can be considered an act of criminal fraud.
As such, if an individual knowingly lies about an important or key fact in a transaction or relationship and the other party relies on that misrepresentation of fact and suffers financial harm, they may be charged with criminal fraud. It is important to note that criminal fraud does not occur when an individual provides a fact they believe to be true at the time, even if they are mistaken and their information is not accurate.
In the case of sweepstake scams, if an individual lies or conceals a truth regarding a person winning a sweepstakes, and then another party relies on that false information and suffers financial harm, such as by paying for the prize to be delivered to them, then individual that lied may be charged with criminal fraud.
What Is The Difference Between Criminal Fraud And Civil Fraud?
Although the exact laws regarding criminal and civil fraud may differ, the basic elements of fraud in both civil and criminal fraud cases are essentially the same. However, a criminal fraud conviction can result in more severe legal penalties, such as criminal fines and/or jail time.
In addition, criminal law has a higher standard of proof. In criminal cases, the prosecution must prove the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that each element of the crime must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order for a defendant charged with criminal fraud to be convicted.
Also, in criminal fraud cases, whether or not the fraud was actually completed is not a factor in determining the defendant’s guilt. Instead, the mere fact that an individual attempted and intended to commit criminal fraud is enough to charge and convict someone for their sweepstakes scam. Generally, criminal fraud may either be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony crime, depending on the jurisdiction.
In a civil fraud case, the individual who was the victim of the fraud must prove all of the fraud elements discussed above, as well as proving that they suffered financial damages as a result of the fraud. As can be seen, the main difference between a civil and criminal fraud case is that in a civil case, the individual must show actual quantifiable financial damages, whereas in a criminal case the prosecution only needs to show that the defendant attempted the fraud.
How Do Advanced Fee Sweepstakes Work?
As mentioned above, an advanced fee sweepstakes scheme is essentially a fraudulent criminal action. In addition to being a criminal action, the sweepstakes is also a civil violation in which the party that was taken advantage of may sue the party that committed the fraud for civil damages.
As for how advanced fee sweepstakes work, an advanced fee scam typically occurs when a targeted victim receives a letter or other communication that says they have won either some amount of money or a physical prize. The communication will then provide instructions on who to contact in order to claim the prize.
After contacting the company listed on the communication, the victim may be told they need to pay a fee of some sort in order to have the prize or winnings transferred to them. However, with an advanced fee sweepstakes scheme, the prize will never arrive. Typically, the prize never exists in the first place.
For example, in a common type of advanced fee scam, the victim will be told to initially dial an 800 number to claim the prize. Then, once the victim has called the toll-free number, they will usually go through some “verification” steps, such as entering a provided code that was listed on their mailed notice or left in their voicemail. Next, the victim will then be told to call another number in order to receive their prize.
Finally, when the victim calls that number, they will be charged a certain amount per minute. That final phone call will usually be a long call, sometimes accumulating more than $50 in charges.
Another common advanced fee sweepstakes scheme occurs when a telemarketer calls the victim to tell them they have won a lottery, or another contest. Within the message, the victim will be told they are about to receive a large sum of money or something else of value, such as an all expenses paid cruise.
The telemarketer may then say that before they can send the person the stated prize, the victim must send them a specified amount of money to cover the amount of federal taxes owed on the prize. However, there is not actually any sum of money or trip, as it is a criminal scheme meant to defraud the victim of their money.
Additionally, an advanced fee sweepstakes scheme may also try to get personal information from the victim that they can use to access their financial accounts or sell to third parties. As such, it is important to never give out your personal information over the phone without first verifying who is requesting the information.
What Should I Do if I Have Received an Advanced Fee Sweepstakes Scam Communication?
If you have been contacted by a sweepstakes scam, regardless of the method of communication (email, phone, mail, etc.) you should immediately report the scam to your local or state consumer protection agencies. Additionally, you may also submit a written complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”). The FTC is the governmental agency that oversees deceptive advertising and will be able to bring a civil and criminal action against the defrauders on your behalf.
Further, if you have received an advanced fee sweepstakes scam communication via the mail, you should also submit a complaint with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service will then investigate any potential mail fraud, and intercept any other messages that may have been sent out by the sender. Finally, submitting a complaint with the Better Business Bureau online will help alert other consumers that may be looking into the fake sweepstakes.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With an Advanced Fee Sweepstakes Scam?
If you have been targeted by an advanced fee sweepstakes scam, or have fallen victim to a scam, you should consult with an experienced consumer lawyer. An experienced consumer attorney who has experience in consumer fraud issues, will be able to help advise you regarding your best legal options.
Additionally, if you have fallen victim to a scam, an experienced attorney may be able to help you discover the party behind the scam. Then, you may be able to bring a private lawsuit against the party that defrauded you for the civil damages you suffered. Finally, an experienced consumer attorney will be able to represent you at any in person hearing, and help you recover the money you lost.