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Well Done, your credit card has won a holiday vacation!

Or has it?! I have my doubts! Let me explain...


My phone rang and I answered. A cheerful recorded message on the other end announced that I had won the jackpot and had been chosen to be the winner of a PRIZE! ...please press 9 to continue...

Now remember, they called me, and I'm not agreeing to anything. I'm just curious to hear more details. So I pressed 9.

Yes, the friendly representative said, it's true, a prize has been awarded by my VISA card company. Well, they're friendly and I'm polite, so please tell me, which card has won the prize? In fact, which card company has awarded the prize?

"We're not allowed to tell you that. You have to tell us the expiry date and you can then claim the prize".

Now the prize was described and was pretty good. It involved flights and accommodation in three different resorts, with all expenses paid apart from the alcoholic drinks and the tax fees. So I'm expected to pay 390 to claim a prize worth 3600.

Sounds good at first, until you realise that these people have not been able to tell me which card company has awarded me the prize (Anyone awarding a prize is usually very keen to announce loudly who they are!). They didn't know who I am, and yet they wanted me to reveal the expiry date on the card... and, it turns out, the actual card number.

Well, no! I do at least expect an incoming unsolicited call to be able to verify something in order to get through my security. Security isn't a one-way thing, it's a two-way arrangement. If someone's claiming to be my bank, for example, then they have to tell me something which is only known by myself and my bank. If they can't, then they are not the bank and if I fall for it then I could seriously end up a muggins on the wrong end of a scam.

The representative put me through to the supervisor who was, so we are told, one of the directors of the company. But now it is announced that they didn't call me. Instead, I am alleged to have been transferred from my VISA card company to them, which I agreed to do by pressing "9". No, again not true. The caller-ID said it was an international call. It was an incoming call, and the call was contiguous with the company that called me. Also, if the prize has been awarded by my VISA card company, then let's hear some verification, like "Which card company is it?".

The supervisor said that it was a VISA card and that the number begins with a 4. Well, sorry to disappoint you, but as far as I know, all VISA cards begin with a 4. (Similarly, a Mastercard would most likely begin with a 5). You have to tell me something that proves this is real, otherwise it could be anyone calling to phish my credit card details!

In this game of strategic logic, wishful thinking doesn't come into it. There is no point in giving up your own security because you want to believe that you've won a prize. Otherwise you might as well believe all kinds of faith-based nonsense such as those Nigerian princes' e-mail messages. Besides the fact, if such a prize-winning were genuine, the prize awarders would actually know the names of the prize winners!

I politely pointed out that I would not be revealing my credit card number unless some information was revealed to me. Well, if the blame is to be passed to VISA, then let's have a message passed to VISA that their prize-awarding system undermines customers' own security and they really should have more sense. The company director promised to pass that information on. The call ended politely and with me being told that the prize would be awarded to someone else.

Now let's examine this situation and point out some things...

1. They phoned me, with an unsolicited call, saying I had won a prize. However, they didn't know the identity of the person they were calling, nor anything else about them. Suspicious?

2. A prize was alleged to have been awarded, and yet I was expected to pay some fees. Unusual; generally prizes are no-strings-attached.

3. It was said that my VISA card company had awarded me the prize because of my card, but the people phoning were unable to tell me which card nor even which company. If they'd even known the middle four digits it wouldn't have been so bad, but they knew nothing.

4. Generally, you have only won a prize if you have entered the competition in the first place. If you win The UK National Lottery, it's because you bought a ticket, or because someone bought a ticket for you (in which case you would be given the ticket before it won). There's no such thing as an email ballot, and so such messages as the You've Won the Lottery email are fake.

Conclusion:

I believe it is a scam of some sort. I advise anyone in a similar position of having a phone call coming in saying they'd won a prize etc to ask for extra information, and if it isn't forthcoming then don't give away any info.

It is a very easy ploy to phone people up and to make claims and to ask for information or "verification", but we are not mugs, and it should be expected that people have the good sense to have some security. The fact that it's an easy ploy to extract money from people doesn't of itself prove it's a scam. However, if it's not a scam then it is at the very least bad practice as it undermines personal security. It's a little bit like saying "Well done! You've won a prize! Send us your front door key so we can deliver the prize into your house!". You'd probably tell them not to be so silly, wouldn't you?

I think I did quite well in holding my ground, and I kept them talking for 22 minutes in a call from the USA to the UK. Also, to the credit of the people calling me (regardless of whether they were genuine or total rogues) they at least kept it polite, and did not hang up like some of the more spivvy slash-and-burn marketers have done. The politeness makes them more credible, but in their case sadly not credible enough to get my credit card number!

I'd be fascinated to hear from anyone who has had similar experiences, and if anyone has had a phone call and won an actual prize and gone on holiday/vacation without having to pay for it themselves. It would also be interesting to hear what VISA and other credit card places have to say about this sort of thing! So, if you'd care to tell me your story, please write to me. I would like to know your story, but not your credit card number!