Source: 2019-20 Consumer Sentinel Report
Lottery scams result in millions of Americans getting tricked by fraudsters seeking to take advantage of unsuspecting victims with promises of large cash prizes, goods, or services.
In a 2021 Better Business Bureau report, data showed that Americans lost around $227 million to fake sweepstakes, prize, and lottery scams. Typically, older adults (over the age of 55) are the primary targets for these types of scams, but regardless of age, anyone can fall victim to this type of con.
Learn how to avoid getting duped by lottery scams, what red flags to look out for, and how to recover your money (if possible).
A lottery scam, also known as lottery fraud, involves a thief trying to trick someone into paying them money or providing sensitive account information in order to access their supposed lottery winnings.
But after the victim provides what the scammer wants, they learn there’s no prize and the scammer disappears. The ultimate goal of a scammer is to make money, either directly from you or by selling your account information to someone else.
For example, a thief may steal your credit card information, quickly use it to make a purchase, then return the item for a refund or sell it to someone else. They may also sell your credit card information on the dark web to score a quick profit while minimizing their risk of getting caught.
There are several red flags to keep an eye out for to prevent a scammer from taking advantage of you. These include:
If you get a call that you won a sweepstakes or lottery that you don’t remember entering or know you didn’t, this is likely a red flag.
Oftentimes, fake sweepstakes and lotteries will omit any fine print or details about the contest. If you can't find anything about the start and end dates, methods of entry, prize descriptions, legal disclaimers, and eligibility requirements, you may be dealing with a scam.
If you’re ever asked to pay anything at all in order to receive your prize, it may be a scam. This may even include receiving a partial payment check and getting asked to pay a fee for the remainder of the prize.
Anytime someone claims that making a payment increases the chance that you’ll win a lottery, this is lottery fraud. Authentic lotteries or sweepstakes give all players the same chance of winning based on purchasing equal numbers of tickets—or receiving them for free.
If you’re ever asked to provide financial information to claim a prize, it’s probably a scam. There’s no reason a legitimate lottery administrator needs your bank, credit card, or any financial banking information.
While there are a wide variety of lottery scams out there, but some are more common than others.
To beat lottery fraud, you should keep a few things in mind anytime someone reaches out—via phone, email, text, or regular mail—regarding money or prizes you’ve supposedly won.
A real lottery doesn’t require you to pay money to get your prize. In some cases, you may have to travel to pick up or claim the money, but you will never have to send a check, wire funds, or pay cash to get authentic lottery winnings.
Sometimes scammers will send you a check with your partial winnings, with the promise of the full payment once you send a fee to the "contest sponsors." In most cases, this is a fake check that will bounce once it clears and you'll end up owing the bank that money.
Legitimate lottery winnings won’t require an instant response. If someone says you have to act quickly, they may be trying to fool you into making a rash, emotional decision based on a desire to get easy money. Even if there’s no money being asked for, whenever there’s pressure to provide any kind of information to claim your winnings, it’s probably lottery fraud.
It’s illegal for Americans to play foreign lotteries or participate in sweepstakes hosted in another country, so you should always decline your “winnings,” if offered. The scammer may also be trying to take advantage of your unfamiliarity with the economics of a foreign country, hoping you believe people in that area have money that they can give away at will.
Responding to an email may seem like a relatively innocent step. But if the lottery is legitimate, there will be a real phone number, as well as information about the organization sponsoring it.
You shouldn’t respond via email—even to ask for more information—because the reply you get may have malware embedded in it. This could be in the form of a link you’re asked to click on or an attached file. The malware can then be used to spy on your device, grant access to your personal information, or provide a “backdoor” for a hacker to access your system later.
To prevent con artists from stealing your identity, you should never give out your personal information over the phone, via email, or text messages to anyone you don’t know or trust.
You should also double-check the validity of any website, such as a bank site, before entering any information. When sending any money online, be sure to only use sites that begin with “https://,” these are the most secure sites.
If you’ve fallen victim to lottery fraud, you should report it right away. The sooner you get information to the authorities, the more likely they will be able to either catch the thief or help you get your money back. Here are the steps you can take:
Finally, let your friends and family know, because the scammer may try to target them next
In some instances, you may be able to get your money back after falling for a lottery or sweepstakes scam. If you paid via:
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