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PRIZE FEE, 900 CALL RULE SHOULD RAISE RED FLAG

SHARE PRIZE FEE, 900 CALL RULE SHOULD RAISE RED FLAG

This is your "final notice"-- you have won a sweepstakes prize valued at up to $10,000, but first you must send in a small processing fee.

Yeah, and if you believe that, the Utah Division of Consumer Protection also has a beautiful Rainbow Bridge it would like to sell you."This current mailing should raise red flags with anyone who receives it," said division director Francine Giani. Not only are `winners' required to send in money to collect money, they must call a 900 number for more information.

"These are both signs of a fraudulent offer," Giani said. "Legitimate sweepstakes will not require a processing fee or any type of charge to the winner."

The postcards bearing the unbelievably good news began reaching Utah mail boxes last week, provoking a number of calls to the division. Officials said they are investigating the mailing, which appears to have originated in San Diego.

In the meantime, Giani warns people not to fall victim to what she characterized as an obvious scam. People who respond to the notice will likely receive nothing at all or a prize worth less than the processing fee, she said.

Generally, legitimate sweepstakes require contestants to complete an entry form. "Then, if an individual is lucky, they're notified they have won a prize and receive that prize at no cost," Giani said.

The division offered the followed advice to consumers who are considering any sweepstakes offer:

- Did you enter the sweepstakes? If not, the notification is suspect and should be discarded.

- Are you required to pay money before you can receive your prize? This is a sure sign of a bogus contest.

- Are you required to pay shipping and handling costs? Legitimate contests will pay all delivery costs.

- Never give a credit card number. Some fraudulent sweepstakes have claimed to need these numbers to verify eligibility.

- Beware of sweepstakes that require you to call a 900 number for additional information, verification or to activate the prize distribution.

Consumers with questions about sweepstakes offers should call the division, 530-6601, before acting.