876 phone numbers add up to trouble
It happens in our area countless times every single day: the phone rings and unsuspecting people "pick up" and are told they've won a sweepstakes prize. Though these phone calls are all fraudulent in nature, a quick way to identify calls like this is to look at your caller ID. Is the caller's prefix 876?
If so, the call originated from Jamaica, a hotbed for sweepstakes scams. The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota is urging people to be aware of this type of scam and to warn friends and loved ones about it.
"These sweepstakes calls sound wonderful and it would be nice if even one of them was legitimate," said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. "However, they're not. Many of these calls come from boiler rooms in Jamaica, and anyone playing along with them guarantees the only real winners will be the scammers."
Though the 876 area code might look "local," it's actually the telephone prefix assigned to Jamaica. In recent years there have been many news reports about fraudulent cold-calling operations operating out of that country and targeting U.S. consumers. According to AARP, approximately 30,000 calls are made from Jamaica into the U.S. every day attempting to defraud American citizens.
Beyond claiming potential victims have won a cash prize, foreign scammers also drop references to luxury sports cars to sweeten the package. They also will falsely claim affiliations with established companies or government agencies, including the FTC, Publishers Clearing House and the BBB. However, like the "prizes," these affiliations are non-existent and only used to try to bolster the bogus callers' credibility. In some cases, these Jamaican scammers have even resorted to threats of physical harm in an attempt to get victims to make on the spot payments.
To avoid falling victim to sweepstakes scams, the BBB provides the following advice:
• Screen your calls. If you see a call from an 876 area code, it's very likely a scammer is on the other end of the line.
• Stay realistic. You can't win a contest you didn't enter, and if you're told you have to pay anything to collect your winnings, you haven't won anything.
• Remember, you're in charge. If you don't like the way a call is going, simply hang up. If the calls keep coming, report them to the proper authorities, such as the Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov), as well as the Better Business Bureau.
• Don't be bullied. Though it's important to ensure your own safety, keep in mind the majority of these calls are made from outside the country. If calls you receive become threatening in nature, report them to your local authorities immediately.
• Never wire money. Sweepstakes scams usually come with a request to wire funds for supposed fees such as insurance or taxes – don't play along. Some scammers now are asking people to purchase Green Dot MoneyPaks and then share the number on the back. By doing this, you're giving criminals all the information they need to drain the funds loaded onto these MoneyPaks.
Other lottery solicitations are sent through the mail or via email.