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    Fraudulent Telemarketing Scheme Spreads, Agents Warn

    OIG special agents are warning the public that an international telemarketing fraud scheme—in which callers claiming to represent a government agency tell potential victims they have won huge sweepstakes prizes—has spread to more places around the world and likely will continue.

    In one scheme, fraudulent telemarketers based in Costa Rica and other foreign countries claim to be from Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security or another federal agency. They ask "winners" to pay insurance and customs fees and to wire funds to guarantee prize delivery. The phone numbers appear to originate in the United States. The perpetrators may also provide materials that appear to be from a government organization in order to legitimize the prize offers.

    Other schemes involving selection of individuals for receipt of bogus government grants from the Department of Commerce or other agencies have also been reported to OIG investigators.

    OIG investigators are warning citizens that they should NEVER send money to any individuals who may call making these claims. Although millions in restitution have been court ordered in the sweepstakes scheme, few if any defrauded individuals will ever recover any of their losses if they fall prey to this scheme.

    The U.S. Department of Commerce is not affiliated with any sweepstakes or lottery operation. If you or anyone you know receives such a call, report it to the Office of Inspector General hotline at 1-800-424-5197 or to the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP, or file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov.

    An intense OIG investigation over the past 5 years has netted 40 arrests and 30 convictions of Americans and Canadians involved in the plot.

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Site last revised: November 4, 2008