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Consumer Advisory Bulletin

Don't Sign Up for a "Scam"

Prize Giveaways May Expose You to Scams or Unwanted Solicitations. Summer is Fair time -- a prime time for people to run into chances to sign up for free vacations and other prize giveaways. It also is prime time to exercise caution. Don't sign up for a "scam"!

Most people realize that their chances of winning a prize aren't that great, but they think there's no harm and it's worth a try. Most people DON'T realize that their chances are very GOOD to be contacted by con-artists or to receive other unwanted solicitations. There are many legitimate prize drawings, but you must be careful.

Here are some of the bad things that can happen with free-prize sign-ups -- and some tips to help you avoid being cheated:

  • You may be put on a list for a phony prize scheme. The classic example of this is the vacation sign-up. You may hear nothing until next winter, when a phone call says you are the "winner" of a tantalizing "island cruise" -- if you will only send several hundred dollars in advance for "processing fees" or some other expense. They take your money, but you get no vacation: It's a scam. Never send money in advance to collect a so-called "prize!"
  • You may unknowingly have your telephone long distance "slammed" or switched to a different long distance company (which could be far more expensive than your chosen service.) Study both sides of any entry form to be sure there is no "fine print" that authorizes a change in your long distance service. And always watch your phone bills: Some totally unscrupulous companies will "slam" (switch) your long distance service with no permission whatsoever.
  • You may be inviting unwanted solicitations. Prize entry blanks are devices to build lists of consumers. You can expect solicitations by mail, telephone or even at your door. Your name may be bought and sold by numerous list brokers -- honest businesses or con-artists.
  • You may be asked for private financial information. Don't give out credit card or checking account information. You may also want to keep private your social security number, date of birth, marital status, household income, and occupation.

Be careful of sign-ups at fairs, vacation shows, conventions, theaters, restaurants, malls. If you have a complaint or question, contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division, Hoover Building, Des Moines, Iowa 50319. Phone 515-281-5926.

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