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YOU MIGHT WIN FREE CHANCE TO BE EXPENSIVELY RIPPED OFF

SHARE YOU MIGHT WIN FREE CHANCE TO BE EXPENSIVELY RIPPED OFF

YOU MAY HAVE WON!

The details vary, but the premise is always the same: Lucky you have seen selected by a computer/random drawing/sales staff/etc. to be the recipient of a FREE PRIZE - anything from a new car to a stereo system, to a luxury cruise, to a set of his and her watches from our favorite watchmaker Louis (not Lucien) Piccard.State consumer protection officials have recently noticed an increasing number of "free prize" schemes coming into Utah. These often start with a postcard and could end up costing you far more than the prize is worth.

"Often the deal involves a cash remittance or even worse a disclosure of your credit card number, to validate your free prize award," says Gary Hansen, director of the Division of Consumer Protection. "Usually there is a condition to securing your free offer - such as a substantial handling fee, shipping charge or even a membership fee."

And the prizes themselves are generally not what you expect. The "luxury" Caribbean cruise, for example, may be nothing more than a motorboat ride a couple of miles off the Florida coast.

Hansen warns consumers to beware misleading terms such as "official letter of notification," "Department of Administration," "randomly selected by computer" or "validated and sealed in the state of Utah."

Such statements create the false impression that the deal is legitimate.

Current solicitations that consumers should be especially cautions of, says Hansen, are travel-related offerings for June honeymoon deals or summer vacation packages.

To safeguard against fraudulent free prize offers:

- Never give your credit card number to strangers. Fraudulent solicitors often inform consumers that a credit card number is required by the government for tax purposes or for identification.

- Check out the offering thoroughly; find out who is representing it.

- You can easily recognize the offers that are too good to be true; don't fall for them.

- Pause, think, use your own good judgment. Fraudulent operators don't expect that.