ACCC warns scratchie coupon scams from dubious travel brochures

By @chelean on
A customer scratches a lottery ticket at a tobacconist shop in Marseille, December 1, 2007.
A customer scratches a lottery ticket at a tobacconist shop in Marseille, December 1, 2007. Reuters/Jean-Paul Pelissier

The scratchie coupons found in dubious magazines are likely a scam, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). A woman in Canberra has endured manipulation and harassment from a fraudulent Malaysian-based travel group that claimed she won US$190,000 (AU$245,000) from a scratchie.

According to the ABC, the woman, who did not want to be named, said she found two scratchie cards enclosed in a glossy magazine left in her mailbox. The magazine appeared to be from a Malaysian travel group. When she scratched one card, it revealed she won a “second place prize” of US$190,000. She called the company to claim her winnings, but that proved to be the start of weeks of harassment.

The woman said the person who answered her call told her to pay mandatory charge of hundreds of dollars as well as provide personal her details before she could collect her prize. She refused to provide her bank details and questioned why the fees that she should pay could not just be deducted from her prize. The operator apparently became aggressive when questioned.

She then just told them to cancel her prize. That didn’t stop the company, though. It continued to send her phone calls for a month.

The ACCC said the woman’s experience was nothing new. Many Australians have also fallen victim to “scratchie scams,” with Canberrans losing $41,731 this year alone. The amount is 40 percent greater from last year’s.

A couple from Canberra also “won” prize money inside a fake travel brochure. Fortunately, when the call they were expecting for alleged prize verification did not come, they researched online and found warnings against the scam. They received another “winning” mail and then husband’s mother received another “winning” mail a week later.

Canberran Sue Wood told the ABC that she also received a brochure from Two Princess Tour company, but she did not fall for it, saying she was a big cynic when it comes to things that seem too good to be true. “But it makes me so angry that it’s the ones who can’t afford it, the battlers, who would fall for it,” she said.

The scam is not just present in Canberra. In Sydney, there are also people receiving fake travel brochures with scratchie cards. Belinda Wrigley told Fairfax that she received a travel brochure from a travel company in Malaysia in her mailbox. The company was called Sweet Summer Tour, which was allegedly celebrating its 13th year in business.

Wrigley and her husband Luke were thrilled to find they won the second prize of US$190,000 after scratching the card. She said it looked “legitimate” and “very professionally presented” that they initially believed it to be true. It had the logos of its “official partners” like TripAdvisor and Seagate, which both denied involvement.

But after researching online, they found out that Sweet Summer Tour website had only recently been created. It’s highly unlikely for a company to be celebrating 13 years to have a new website.

The ACCC said the scam method mostly involves two scratchies received in the mail. One would be a non-winning, “thank you” card, and the other a winning card. Women over 65 years of age are the most common victims. Deputy chair Delia Rickard warned that although the scratchie scam isn’t new, scammers are becoming craftier in designing these cards. Aside from warning people to be more vigilant and careful, the ACCC also has been working with banks and other money-transfer companies so they can better recognise when money is being transferred to scammers.

“We just have to keep working on getting the message out to the public, working with the people that send the money [to the scammers], and working to stop the scammer connecting with the victims in the first place,” she said.

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