COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — March Madness is right around the corner, but those friendly office pools aren’t the only way Ohio sports fans are hoping to cash in on the games.
Sports betting went live in Ohio on January 1, and with promotional ads coming left and right, experts are warning gamblers to be aware of March Madness scams. “It’s like with any major event, scammers are opportunistic, and they take advantage of whatever’s hot and trendy,” admits Judy Dollison, the President of the Better Business Bureau of Central Ohio.
In fact, Forbes estimates that $3.1 billion was wagered on March Madness last year, and that number is expected to more than double in 2023. But one of the most exciting events of the year for sports fans is a slam dunk for scammers trying to steal your money.
“What we see, in a way, it reminds me of what we see with cryptocurrency investment scams,” Dollison reflects. With sports gambling exploding in Ohio, many fans will be tempted by online ads promoting introductory bonuses or ‘free bets’ in exchange for a risk-free deposit.
While the ads may seem legitimate, experts say these fake promotions are anything but risk free.
“They make the bet, they win, and then they go to withdraw their winnings and there’s just a variety of issues as to why they can’t make that withdraw,” Dollison explains. “It’s either there’s technical issues, or they may need additional information to verify their identity, they ask for their driver’s license, or even that they have to deposit more funds to withdraw the funds they’ve already won.”
But ultimately, the victim will find there is never a way to make that withdraw. Dollison says fans should also be wary of emails, texts, or even social media messages that appear to come from people or organizations they know.
“What we see a lot is where your friend is reaching out to you through social media, or through an email, when it’s not really your friend at all, that the account has been hacked, and you’re getting a message from a scammer who’s posing as your friend,” Dollison cautions.
Experts recommend managing your brackets with well-known sites, like ESPN or CBS, and always be suspicious if you’re asked to send payment to new or unknown accounts. “It’s best to use credit cards when you’re doing anything online, making any payment online, because it is the most opportunity to get a refund or a stop payment,” Dollison suggests. “Peer-to-peer platforms, wire transfers, paying with gift cards — a lot of the payment methods that scammers like — are really very immediate and there’s no recourse to get those funds back.”
Nationwide Arena will host first round games on Mar. 17 and second round matchups on Mar. 19. For those looking to get in the door and watch the teams first-hand, Dollison advises to never buying tickets from unauthorized sources.
“It is a common ticket scam trick to look like a legitimate website. They steal the logo, they use the same typeface, the URL might be just a slight misspelling of a legitimate company,” Dollison explains. “So, look at the URL carefully, make sure the website is really going to the site you think you’re going to.”
Dollison suggests never clicking an online link, instead type the website you want to visit directly into your web browser. She also says to never purchase tickets that don’t include all the necessary information like section, row, or seat numbers. The BBB of Central Ohio also says to be cautious of streaming and other eCommerce scams.
Some tips include:
- Stream all games on reputable sites to avoid malware and spyware.
- Don’t enter personal information or payments over public WIFI.
- Think before clicking. Examine all links on ticketing site ads and in emails by hovering your mouse over it to reveal the full address. If there are letters on the end, that’s a good indicator of a scam. For example, .RU means Russia and .BR means Brazil.
- Know that there is no good reason to share personal information, especially financial information, over social messaging, texts, or unsecured sites.
And lastly, Dollison says the most important rule of thumb is, “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” To contact your local BBB, you can visit their website.
To report a scam, visit the BBB Scam Tracker and to learn how to spot a scam, click here.