By a Biometrica staffer
Winning the lottery is normally associated with excitement and happiness. And, let’s be honest, it’s something many of us have wished would happen to us and make us wealthier overnight. Yet, it’s wise to not let that dream cloud judgement, especially if someone calls you out of the blue and says you’ve won a sweepstakes, or lottery, or a prize… despite you never having bought a ticket or registered for one. Lottery and sweepstakes scams are some of the most common frauds that take place in the country. And sometimes, they can take a terribly dark turn.
Take for example, a lottery scam in a Texas suburb in 2019: A scammer promised a retired couple a fictitious payout if they continued to send him money for fees and taxes. While lottery scams typically end when the scammers get some money out of it, this one turned into a romance scam when the scammer’s constant calls created a bond between him and the 70-year-old woman, who may have been suffering from dementia. It didn’t end there either, though. The scammer “promised” the elderly woman a beautiful life together on the sandy beaches of Jamaica, where he was based. The catch? He demanded that the woman kill her husband, sell their home, and flee to Jamaica.
Luckily, that particular sinister scam was interrupted by an agent from the United States Postal Inspection Service, which had been monitoring a trail of cash making its way from the U.S. to the scammer in Jamaica and traced it to the couple in Texas. In this piece, we examine the warning signs of a lottery scam, how scammers normally try to con people using this kind of a scam, tips to identify real sweepstakes, and how to report lottery scams.
As we mentioned earlier, scammers are also entirely aware that most everyone dreams of winning a lot of money. That gives plenty of room and chances for them to pull off a scam. But the good news is there are warning signs that you can look for to do your part to ensure you don’t get scammed.
- One of the biggest warning signs is that you are asked to pay money to get your prize. Genuine prizes are, by definition, free. So if someone tells you to pay a fee for “taxes,” “shipping and handling charges,” or “processing fees” to get your prize, you’re probably dealing with a scammer. If anyone asks you to pay by wiring money, sending cash, or paying with gift cards or cryptocurrency to get your prize, don’t do it. Scammers use these kind of payment methods more than others since it’s hard to track who the money went to and since it’s almost impossible to get your money back.
- Another major sign is if the lottery or sweepstake involved says you need to pay to increase your odds of winning. That’s a definite no-no and is, in fact, illegal. Only a scammer will do that.
- Do not give anyone your financial information. If someone says you need to give them these details to claim your prize, don’t. There’s no reason ever to give any stranger your bank account or credit card number, especially to claim a prize or a sweepstake. If they insist on this information, it could very well be a scam.
- If you receive a notice or call from a person claiming to work with the federal government or a “Federal Sweepstakes Board,” be wary. The federal government does not oversee sweepstakes, and no federal government agency will contact you to ask for money in order to claim a prize.
- Let’s say you did not enter a lottery, but you receive a notice or call from a person claiming to work for a Lottery and Charitable Games Control Board, or a similar entity, and they ask you for personal information. Do not divulge anything to them, as it may be a scam. Similarly, if you receive a notice or call informing you that you have won a lottery in another country — and one you have never been to or have no business in, especially — that’s most likely a scam too.
More On Scammers’ Modi Operandi
Scammers sometimes know just what to say to make sure people give them their money. Here are some ways in which they trick you into thinking you’ve won money, per the FTC:
- They claim that they are from the government and try to look official. The government won’t call you to demand money so you can collect a prize.
- They might pretend to be from well-known companies that run real sweepstakes, or use names of organizations you recognize. Always contact the real company directly to find out the truth.
- Scammers may send you a message to get your personal information. You might be told that you won a gift card or a discount code to a local store. Or the message may say you won something expensive, like an iPad or a new car from your local dealership. Scammers hope you’ll respond with your personal information or click on links that can then take your personal information.
- They may make it seem like you’re the only person who won a prize.
- Scammers may also, as we said earlier, claim that you’ve won a foreign lottery, or even that you can buy tickets for one.
- They pressure you to act “immediately,” by saying it’s a limited time offer that needs to be acted on right away.
- Some scammers also send people a fake check, and ask you to send some of the money back.
Tips To Identify Genuine Prizes
On the contrary, there are some signs that can tell you a lottery or prize or sweepstake is real:
- A real sweepstake is free and by chance, and won’t ask you to pay to buy something to enter, or to increase chances of your winning
- If you sign up for a contest or a drawing, you’re likely to get promotional mail, telemarketing calls, or spam. You are not likely to get a random, out of the blue call just to say you’ve won big.
- Sweepstakes that are genuine cannot claim you’re a winner unless you’ve actually won a prize, and if they send you a fake check in their mailing, it has to clearly say it’s non-negotiable and has no cash value.
Finally, what do you do if you actually got scammed and paid a scammer money under this type of a fraud? You can:
- Report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov
- You also can contact your state attorney general and your local consumer protection office.
- If the prize promotion came in the mail, report it to the US. Postal Inspection Service.
- If you think you gave your personal information to a scammer, go to IdentityTheft.gov for steps you can take to protect your identity.
You can learn more about how to get your money back if you’ve been lottery scammed here.