Don’t get caught out by prize draw scams

Posted by Dr Alistair Phillips in Identity Theft on 30 April 2012 - Ali is a Senior Developer at checkmyfile

A common sight on today’s doorsteps is the “prize-winning” envelope. Without even opening it, it claims that you’ve won a prize, usually some piece of high-tech gadgetry such as a 40” high definition TV.

Upon opening the envelope, you’ll find more details of your prize, along with details on how to claim. There might even be a jackpot win, requiring you to affix a sticker to a claim form.

Of course, if you read the contents carefully (particularly the small print), you’ll find that although you may have won something it’s unlikely to be the afore-mentioned TV, even though at first glance the main prize appears to be yours. Claiming your prize is usually done in one of two ways – returning the claim form or phoning a number. Sometimes you will need to phone to get a claim number, but read the small print – these numbers are often around £1.50 per minute and you’ll need to stay on the phone for several minutes, listening to endless rhetoric before finally receiving your claim number.

Of course, in order to receive your prize you’ll need to give up, at the very least, your name and address, and possibly your phone number as well. The prize you’re likely to receive will cost the company nothing compared to the value of the information you’ve just handed over. The company can now use your details in future mailings (they already know you’re likely to respond as you have just replied to them), offering more prizes, mail order products and so on. They also have valuable information to sell on to other companies. The result? Yet more envelopes landing on your doormat.

Most of such post you receive is from legitimate companies looking for business, However, if you have been targeted by a scam, these individuals now have some of the information required to steal your identity, especially if you also handed over your date of birth (they may have required you to prove that you’re over 18 in order to claim your “prize”).

You may wonder how were you targeted in the first place. You may have replied to a different company at some point in the past, which sold you details on. If you wish to reply to such a company, look for a box to opt out of receiving mailings from “similar companies” and read the wording carefully. It may say “Tick this box if you wish to receive..”, or it could say “Tick this box if you do not wish to receive…”. Be sure to make the correct choice to opt out of having your details sold on.

It’s also possible that your information came from the Electoral Roll. Ensure that you have opted out of the marketing version of the Electoral Roll – this is the version which is sold on to companies. You can do this in October when the registration form arrives, or contact the Electoral Registration officer at your local council. You can ensure that you are currently opted out of the marketing version on the Electoral Roll by checking your credit report at checkmyfile. This is the most comprehensive credit report in the UK – it’s free for the first 30 days and only £9.99 per month thereafter until you cancel and includes free identity theft assistance.

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