BBB warns of Jamaican sweepstakes scams

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,” Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota, said. “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 will also 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 used only to try to bolster the bogus callers’ credibility.

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