Sumter County Sheriff’s officials are investigating a new scam after a resident paid almost $500 to claim nonexistent sweepstakes winnings.

According to reports, the victim — identified as an elderly woman — reported this week that she received a call saying she was the third-place winner of a $500,000 Publishers Clearing House prize.

She later received a fax that was filled with misspellings, but stamped with the Sumter County Tax Collector’s Office seal. The fax directed the woman to send $498 to cover county taxes and other fees before she could get the prize.

The victim apparently sent the money, but eventually became suspicious and went to the Tax Collector’s Office, where she discovered it was a scam.

Tax Collector Randy Mask said anything affiliated with his office would have a local phone number on it.

Sweepstakes are a popular marketing tool used to sell products, where the promoters offer chances to win prizes. Sweepstakes promoters aim to grab consumers' attention with the possibility of large prizes in order to convince consumers to purchase merchandise or magazines. As mandated by law, making purchases will not improve your chances of winning a prize.

Here are some important tips to keep in mind regarding sweepstakes and contests:

  • You do not need to buy anything or pay anything in order to enter and win a sweepstakes.
  • Buying products will not improve your chances of winning a prize. Never purchase merchandise or magazines offered by a sweepstakes promoter unless you really want  to own these products.
  • Sweepstakes promoters, have the ability to automatically insert your name into their sweepstakes messages, so every recipient of the mailings gets a personalized greeting.
  • The winner of a sweepstakes is chosen entirely by chance or at random. The sweepstakes promoter has no idea who will win before the winner is actually picked. Don't let yourself be fooled by suggestions that you have a better chance of winning because of membership in a select group or for any other reason suggested to you.
  • Your chances of winning a huge prize in sweepstakes are very small, often only 1 in 50,000,000! Don't let yourself be conned into believing that you are  likely to win a big prize. The odds are not usually in your favor.
  • Sweepstakes promoters send documents that resemble a check, money order, or wire transfer instructions. Usually, these checks will have your name on them. These are not real and are mailed to everyone, so do not get tricked into believing that you are receiving actual money or a special mailing.
  • Consumers have no obligation to read or respond to a sweepstakes mailing.

If you believe you have been a victim of a sweepstakes scam or if you wish to report suspicious activity, a Villages Lawyer at Whittel & Melton can help. Call us today at 352-369-5334 or contact us online today to get the legal assistance you need.