Mail scams still trick users into paying upfront fees

mail scams still use upfront fee trickWe should all know by now an ice cube would have a better chance in a hot oven then one of us winning a contest we didn't enter, but that didn't stop hundreds in Maryland and others in New Hampshire from falling for a recent mail scam.

And they are not alone. In 2009, the Federal Trade Commission received almost 42,000 complaints nationwide about prizes, sweepstakes and lottery schemes.

In this case, Nevada company National Awards Service Advisory LLC agreed with Maryland's attorney general to stop mailing deceptive prize promotions. The company sent mass mailings promising up to $3.4 million in cash for a $20 processing fee. Those who sent money just got lists of sweepstakes and offers they could enter.

The Maryland AG's office ordered company owner Geovanni Serino to return the money -- a total of $15,440. The company, which also went by the names Prize Information Bureau and State of Maryland Commissioners of Registration, also agreed to pay a civil penalty of $25,000.

The company, as Prize Information Bureau, is facing similar allegations in New Hampshire.

Any legitimate contest will include the terms and conditions to participate, the estimated odds of winning and the prize payout schedule, says the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Companies are also required by law to clearly list their contact information.

The Council of the Better Business Bureaus Inc. says that if you have really won a prize, there will be no fees to receive it. If the notice asks for bank account or credit card numbers to claim the winnings, it's a scam. Read the fine print on the notice. These types of mass mailings usually have the word "if" -- meaning you haven't won yet.

Also look at how the promotion was mailed to you. The Federal Trade Commission says that if you see bulk rate postage on the mailer, chances are you haven't won a big prize.
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