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Earlier today I got a phone call from a man claiming to be from the city I live in. He said I had randomly won a sweepstakes from a pamphlet I filled out while shopping some time ago, and I would have to go to an office location with my partner in tow to pick up a scratch card that would have one of three random prizes which we would leave with at no charge. This call immediately sent up a lot of red flags for me:

  • I asked him "what's my name" and he spent several seconds typing before answering (but he did know it).
  • He refused to elaborate where his office was beyond a street name I've never heard of and insisted his manager would email me after the call with instructions on where to go specifically.
  • The company name was "The Great Center" or something.
  • Asked me some strange demographic questions like "you said you are between X and Y ages and you live together with your partner, is that true?" (this sounds like info anyone could buy from e.g. google ad services)
  • He asked me "does this zip code sound familiar?" and listed one sort-of close to where I live.
  • He claimed I won by filling out a slip while shopping but couldn't tell me where it was from, instead listing many chain stores.
  • Claimed to be from my city but seemed snippy and frustrated when I asked him about the weather: "Does it really matter? I could google it in a few seconds."
  • Finally, the biggest red flag: he claimed I or my partner filled out the card with my name and number back in 2019 in one of these businesses, but I did not live in this city at all in 2019!

Based on all this, I figured it was probably a scam of some kind and hung up. What I don't understand is how it would have gone from the email stage. Is this a common scam and if so, how does it work? I searched on this site and google for scam explanation posts, but couldn't find any about a sweepstakes cold call, and most of the time scams involve getting the mark to send or receive some money of some kind, so I think this might be different, but I'm not sure how it works.

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    Scammers can be pretty innovative. There's not really any way to tell exactly how this is going to play out other than to go through it, which you certainly don't want to do.
    – glibdud
    Jul 16 at 19:13
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    (I assume) Coincidentally, I received a call on my business line today asking for someone by name that I had never heard of. I told him he must have the wrong number and he said he was calling back the number that called him explaining he had won $5M. We both agreed it was a scam.
    – TTT
    Jul 16 at 19:14
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    If they want you to come in to their office, they're trying to sell you something (vacuum cleaners, timeshares, etc).
    – RonJohn
    Jul 16 at 19:15
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    @R.Barrett if you want to be coy about where you live maybe try not listing it in your StackExchange user profile :D Anyway, google doesn't return anything useful about a place called "The Great Center" in your location, but I agree with the others it's a scam / sales tactiic.
    – Vicky
    Jul 17 at 12:25
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    This scam used to be done by snail mail in the UK. Basically, if you fall for it you will be trapped in a room with the other victims, and subjected to several hours of high pressure sales pitches before you get to see the "scratch card". There will also be some "plants" from the scammers who will of course sign up to the sales deals offered and "win" huge prizes, to encourage the rest of you to throw your money away.
    – alephzero
    Jul 17 at 17:37
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Short answer - yes this is a scam. Trust your instincts and steer clear.

Long answer - It's very aggressive advertising and maybe a scam because such advertisers rarely sell good products when they are honest.

Everything that vendor listed could come from marketing records or property records. Maybe even the whitepages or caller id. Even if the caller got it from some random survey you did, the worker in a call center won't know what round of surveys it came from. That data is bundled up and sold. It would be a batch of shoppers at Store X in City Y from 2020. No one cares or knows if it was a survey about something specific.

A key point:

I would have to go to an office location with my partner in tow to pick up a scratch card that would have one of three random prizes which we would leave with at no charge.

For a while I got flyers from car dealers where I could scratch off to win 5,10, or even 20% off sticker price ... OR EVEN A FREE CAR! Much wow! So Discount!

Of course every one I let the kids scratch off had 10%. At the time I could have walked in and just haggled like a normal car sale and talked them down 10%. This isn't a sweepstakes, its a lure to get a customer into the dealership to claim their prize. Once you're there you can be sold a car.

In your case - the vendor had something to sell. Timeshares, multi-level-marketing opportunities, office furniture, smutty pictures of pottery, VHS tapes, who knows what it was. The sweepstakes prize would have been a junky giveaway or a discount on something they wanted to sell you.

This could lead to a genuine scam if they then work over people who show up for personal info, credit card information, or other fraudulent transactions.

The nearest reference I could find is this https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2011-10-05-ct-met-dart-sting-20111005-story.html

With promises of $500 gift coupons, plasma televisions and video game systems, dozens of fugitives accused of a host of crimes were duped into going to a West Side warehouse, where instead they were arrested on outstanding warrants.

This example shows how this kind of marketing or scam works. You're probably not a fugitive from the law and you're a savvy consumer who caught on to something fishy but you still wonder about that freebie don't you? Maybe it was something cool.

Trust your instincts, it might not have been a scam but it certainly wasn't worth your time.

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    I think you nailed it. "With partner in tow..." makes it especially sound like a timeshare sales ploy.
    – Michael
    Jul 16 at 21:03
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    Another example, relevant to OP, I used to see flyers that promised if you showed up at a store you would win one of: a new car; a big screen TV; a diamond necklace. It was always the diamond necklace because you can buy something that is technically a diamond necklace for about $20. Jul 17 at 15:12
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    @Freiheit You're probably not a fugitive from the law. Let's hope that you have not just helped a dangerous criminal on the run to evade the action of law enforcement :-p.
    – SJuan76
    Jul 17 at 22:00
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    @Michael I suppose that "with partner in tow" also allows the scammer to know that their home will be unguarded Jul 19 at 9:17
  • @HagenvonEitzen Overwhelmingly more likely that they just whatever they're selling to stick. If they spend an hour hard-selling him, and he needs to call and ask his wife, they wasted an hour.
    – fectin
    Jul 19 at 20:20
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One of my children got one of these calls once, claiming they had entered a raffle at a recent fair and won something. They had been at the fair and entered tons of things; this part was probably true. As a teenager with time on their hands, they trotted off to collect their "prize" which turned out to be (after scratching something or drawing from a bin or whatever) a discount on a thing they would never have bought. Fine. End of story. Except it wasn't. Our phone rang day and night for months afterwards with tales of more raffle wins, press 1 to claim your free cruise, timeshares, you name it. The number (often with no name attached) had clearly been sold as a "live one".

A scam doesn't have be an outright fraud to be a scam. Telling you that you have won a chance to win another thing is not a lie, but it isn't worth your time either. When you signal that you think it is worth your time, keep in mind that the signal you gave away so freely has real value to others, who will use it.

My kids learned a lot about scams, giveaways, and fabulous prizes from the experience, so I wouldn't tell you to refrain from entering raffles at fairs; in fact if you're raising young people it's best they do these things while you still answer the phone number they are writing on the raffle entries. Since then my oldest has twice taken the "free vacation" offer from a timeshare, and resisted the pitch just fine, and enjoyed her weekend at a nice resort. Once you've met a scam, I think it's a little easier to see through some of the fine phrases that are used in aggressive selling.

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    "Telling you that you have won a chance to win another thing is not a lie" apart from the fact that you have not actually "won" it they just were able to get hold of you, e.g. it's "offered" to anyone who would bother. Jul 19 at 3:29

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