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Samantha Small had a good feeling that a $450,000 prize sounded too good to be true.
In May, the Lancaster native responded to about 20 sweepstakes offers she had received in the mail. A few weeks later, she got a letter from what was supposed to be a nonprofit organization called the Dream Foundation. It said she won a second-place prize of $450,000.
There was one catch – the foundation said she first had to pay 1 percent, or $4,500, to receive the prize.
Small also got a call from a man saying he was a federal agent letting her know the sweepstakes was legitimate. The man also told her that many other offers out there are scams.
"It all sounds real, very believable," Small said.
Small was also told that any check over $200,000 had to be bonded before it could delivered, and that Lloyd's of London was handling that for the Dream Foundation.
Her next step was to wire $4,500 to an account and the $450,000 would be released after Small's payment cleared.
The Dream Foundation gave Small a phone number that was supposed to link her to Lloyd's of London. She called the number. A woman on the other end told her all about the money-wiring process.
But there was something that didn't sit well.
So, the next day, Small called the Federal Trade Commission, where she learned that the Dream Foundation was fraudulent. An agent told Small that several people had contacted the FTC regarding the same scam.
The FTC official told Small to remember that no one should ever have to pay money to receive a prize, she said.
Small said she continues to get letters and phone calls about prize money every day. She jokes that she has probably won about $300 million if you add all the offers that have come her way.
Since the Dream Foundation episode, Small no longer entertains phone calls and letter offers and has tried to get her name removed from such calling lists.
She knows many people are in the same boat.
"I just want people to be aware that this is happening on a daily basis," Small said.
Lancaster County Sheriff's Office spokesman Tom Holland said local officers hear complaints about similar scams every week.
Most of the solicitation nowadays is done over the Internet, he said.
Holland said if you receive an unsolicited offer, more than likely it's a scam.
You should never be expected to submit money to get the "prize," Holland also said.
"Look at it with a skeptical eye," he said. "If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is."
Contact reporter Jesef Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (803) 283-1152