A man from King County, WA who ran what authorities called a “cruel” sweepstakes scam, will spend two years behind bars, according to the Associated Press.
A Seattle federal court sentenced Eugene Maganya from Des Moines to two years in prison on Thursday for wire fraud charges.
According to court documents, Maganya targeted vulnerable people with letters claiming they’d won a major sweepstakes prize. Contained in the letter was a fraudulent check. Recipients of the letter were instructed to deposit the check and send Maganya a fee to process the winnings.
By the time the victims realized that the checks didn’t go through, Maganya had already made off with their “processing fee.”
Maganya was arrested in February, but not before scamming nearly $350,000 from his 120 victims. It was one of Maganya’s victims that ultimately gave police the tip to catch him. Unfortunately, much of the damage was already done. One elderly woman even sent Maganya $1,000 cash.
One scammer is behind bars, but there are still plenty out there who police are currently seeking. A new version of the Publishers Clearing House scam that’s been making the rounds recently popped up in Hackettstown, NJ.
The scam promises to award the recipient $2.5 million through a letter that looks official. All winners have to do to claim the money is to cash an enclosed check to pay for “insurance and attorney fees.”
When the bogus checks are cashed, the banks advance the amount, but eventually the victim is left having to pay back the bank for the bogus amount.
There are several ways people can prevent themselves from becoming victims in scams like these. Any sweepstakes that asks you to send a check or money to claim your prize is probably a scam. Legitimate sweepstakes will never ask you to wire a portion back or send in cash for fees.
“Asking a winner to pay upfront costs to accept a prize is called “Post Consideration” and is not legal,” says Jennifer Valentino, Marketing & Account Manager, National Sweepstakes Company, LLC. “If you are being asked to pay cash upfront (other than miscellaneous taxes and personal expenses if traveling), you are likely being scammed. Most Sponsors will require winners receiving prizes over $600 to complete and return releases and IRS forms. If the Sponsor doesn’t seem knowledgeable, is asking for money upfront, or is otherwise not sharing the complete promotion details with you, you might be getting scammed.”
People should also be wary of emails or callers claiming you’ve won something, especially if you don’t remember entering and they’re asking for money. It’s also a bad idea to give away credit card number or bank information to collect a prize.
Anyone who feels they’ve been targeted by a sweepstakes scam should contact the police.